‘Lorax’ Survives Ax, Still on Reading List : Audience Cheers Laytonville School Board Decision to Keep Book

Times Staff Writer

The school board of a tiny Northern California logging town has unanimously voted to continue requiring its second graders to read a Dr. Seuss book that two prominent local families charge is a thinly veiled attack on the timber industry.

Amid a flood of television lights and national press attention, the Laytonville School Board rejected the request to remove from its second grade core reading list “The Lorax,” a 1971 book about a fuzzy-headed creature who fights a fruitless battle against the devastation of a make-believe forest.

The decision was greeted by thunderous applause from the more than 200 onlookers and students who jammed the cafeteria of the elementary school in this town 150 miles north of San Francisco.


La Jolla Author

Dr. Seuss is the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel of La Jolla, who for decades has charmed young readers with his rhyming whimsy. He is the author of more than 40 books such as “The Cat in the Hat” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

In September, Judith Bailey, the wife of a wealthy Laytonville lumber supplier, petitioned the board to remove “The Lorax” from the required reading list, instead making it alternative reading.

The ensuing controversy struck at the growing tension in Laytonville between established logging families and newcomers from urban areas, many of whom believe Northern California’s forests are a precious commodity and should be preserved.

Compared to Book Burning

Some residents claimed the loggers’ actions were tantamount to book burning. Others snickered that the woodsmen wanted to “Ax the Lorax, lynch the Grinch.”

On Thursday night, school board President William Webster spoke of the divided community when he opened the meeting by quipping, “Welcome to ‘Family Feud.’ ”

Two hours later--time that included sometimes heated remarks from board and community members alike--Webster summed up the board’s sentiments to a chorus of appreciative hoots and hollers.


“For us to go into the classroom . . . to say which book you can teach . . . is about as appropriate as a group of teachers going into the woods” to decide which trees to cut down, he said.

“This is an exercise in power and ignorance and futility. We are insulting our children--who do we think we are kidding? We are telling these children ‘We need to protect you from certain ideas.’

“That’s in conflict with everything the United States stands for. Let’s let the teachers teach. Let’s let the students learn.”

Teachers believed the loggers’ efforts were a dangerous strike at their professional integrity. Their numbers included teachers’ association members from as far away as the Bay Area.

At first, things did not look good for either “The Lorax” or the concept of a core reading list for second graders as board members discussed alternatives for the book--talk that included moving it to the core literature list for seventh graders.

Review Ordered

On Thursday, the board voted to keep the book on the reading list but assigned School Supt. Brian Buckley to review the use of core and extended literature lists as part of the district’s language arts curriculum and report back at a later date.


In the meantime, parents who object to any literary work used in the classroom can ask for a comparable book to be used by their child, board members said.

Kristen Burgess, a Laytonville high school senior, told the board, however, that the town’s children at least had no problem with the book.

More than 90% of students polled said they wanted to keep the book on the reading list, she said.

One angry parent told the board that if the book went, he would take his two children out of the public school.