Why Burping Turtles are Like LGBT Kids Books: A Post for Dr. Seuss

(I published a similar post last year, but I think it bears repeating.)

Happy birthday to the good doctor, who was born Theodor Seuss Geisel on this date in 1904. While we may not be able to celebrate quite like they do in Katroo, we can celebrate Read Across America Day, an annual “reading motivation and awareness program” run by the National Education Association (NEA).

Today is also a great time to share an incident regarding Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle, since it relates to those who say that LGBT-inclusive books in the classroom are inappropriate. Geisel once said that when writing Yertle:

I used the word burp, and nobody had ever burped before on the pages of a children’s book. It took a decision from the president of the publishing house before my vulgar turtle was permitted to do so.

—As reported in Stefan Kanfer’s 1991 essay, “The Doctor Beloved by All,” in Of Sneetches and Whos and the Good Dr. Seuss: Essays on the Writings and Life of Theodor Geisel

Times change. Do a search for “burp” at Amazon now, and you’ll get a whole page of listings. “Fart” has about the same results. (I have a eight-year-old son. I had to check.) Let’s hope more publishers, schools, libraries, and the like realize there’s nothing wrong with LGBT-inclusive books for children, and LGBT families are just as kid-appropriate and natural as burping turtles. Perhaps even more so—do turtles really burp?

(And to follow up on something I mentioned last year: I would still like to see the NEA include LGBT Pride Month on its page of Diversity Events, “a list of major events observed by the diverse people of the United States.” The list includes the major heritage months (Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Jewish American Heritage Month, etc.), and links to relevant resources—but not LGBT Pride Month.

A recent study has found that many elementary school students are harassed and bullied because they are perceived as gay or as not conforming to traditional gender norms, but most teachers have not received professional development specific to gender issues or families with LGBT parents. Clearly, resources in this area are needed.

The NEA does state elsewhere that it is “committed to reversing these trends [of sexual orientation- and gender-based harassment and bullying] and addressing the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. That’s why we provide information and resources for educators to create great schools for every child.” Let’s hope it will soon include LGBT Pride Month on its Diversity Events list.)

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