First Lady Melania Trump, as part of National “Read-a-Book” Day, sent ten Dr. Seuss books complete with White House bookplates bearing the donor’s name to one specially-selected school in each of the 50 states.
One might suppose that the local authority figures would smile at the thought of the small children of their neighborhood enjoying such a gift. But, not in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In Cambridge, School Librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro spurned Melania Trump’s gift responding with a remarkably pretentious and ungracious letter, filled with partisan political venom, published in Horn Book Family Reading, reading in part.
My students were interested in reading your enclosed letter and impressed with the beautiful bookplates with your name and the indelible White House stamp, however, we will not be keeping the titles for our collection. Iâ€™d like to respectfully offer my explanation.
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My school and my library are indeed award-winning. I work in a district that has plenty of resources, which contributes directly to â€œexcellence.â€ Cambridge, Massachusetts, is an amazing city with robust social programming, a responsive city government, free all-day kindergarten, and well-paid teachers (relatively speaking â€” many of us canâ€™t afford to live in the city in which we teach). My students have access to a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science. Multiple studies show that schools with professionally staffed libraries improve student performance. The American Association of School Librarians has a great infographic on these findings. Many schools around the state and country canâ€™t compete.
Yearly per-pupil spending in Cambridge is well over $20,000; our cityâ€™s values are such that given a HUGE range in the socioeconomic status of our residents, we believe that each and every child deserves the best free education possible and are working hard to make that a reality (most classrooms maintain a 60/40 split between free/reduced lunch and paid lunch). …
Meanwhile, school libraries around the country are being shuttered. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit are suffering through expansion, privatization, and school â€œchoiceâ€ with no interest in outcomes of children, their families, their teachers, and their schools. Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control? Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos? Why not reflect on those â€œhigh standards of excellenceâ€ beyond only what the numbers suggest? Secretary DeVos would do well to scaffold and lift schools instead of punishing them with closures and slashed budgets.
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So, my school doesnâ€™t have a NEED for these books. And then thereâ€™s the matter of the books themselves. You may not be aware of this, but Dr. Seuss is a bit of a clichÃ©, a tired and worn ambassador for childrenâ€™s literature. As First Lady of the United States, you have an incredible platform with world-class resources at your fingertips. Just down the street you have access to a phenomenal childrenâ€™s librarian: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress. I have no doubt Dr. Hayden would have given you some stellar recommendations.
Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seussâ€™s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes. Open one of his books (If I Ran a Zoo or And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, for example), and youâ€™ll see the racist mockery in his art. Grace Hwang Lynchâ€™s School Library Journal article, â€œIs the Cat in the Hat Racist? Read Across America Shifts Away from Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books,â€ reports on Katie Ishizukaâ€™s work analyzing the minstrel characteristics and trope nature of Seussâ€™s characters. Scholar Philip Nelâ€™s new book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Childrenâ€™s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, further explores and shines a spotlight on the systemic racism and oppression in education and literature.
I am honored that you recognized my students and our school. I can think of no better gift for children than books; it was a wonderful gesture, if one that could have been better thought out. Books can be a powerful way to learn about and experience the world around us; they help build empathy and understanding. In return, Iâ€™m attaching a list of ten books (itâ€™s the librarian in me) that I hope will offer you a window into the lives of the many children affected by the policies of your husbandâ€™s administration. You and your husband have a direct impact on these childrenâ€™s lives. Please make time to learn about and value them. I hope you share these books with your family and with kids around the country. And I encourage you to reach out to your local librarian for more recommendations.
Liz Phipps Soeiro
What a self-righteous, self-important pill!
Dr. Seuss a racist? His “Mulberry Street” book (read aloud on YouTube) features a child’s imaginative reference to a rajah riding and elephant and a Chinese man who eats with sticks. Wow! How terrible.