One of Melania Trumpâ€˜s favorite books isÂ Dr. Seussâ€™s â€œOh, the Places Youâ€™ll Go!,â€ which she read with her son, Barron, â€œover and overâ€ when he was younger.
The first lady, who is increasinglyÂ carving out a public profileÂ for herself, chose the classic childrenâ€™s book and nine other Dr. Seuss titlesÂ to send to anÂ elementary school in Cambridge, Mass., in celebrationÂ of â€œNational Read a Book Day.â€
But a librarian at Cambridgeport SchoolÂ refused to accept the gift,Â criticizing Trump administration education policies and images in the books.
Seussâ€™s illustrations are â€œsteeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes,â€ librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro wrote in a letter to Trump on Tuesday.
The librarianÂ wrote that rather than sending books to a well-funded elementary school in Cambridge, Trump should instead be devoting resources to schools in â€œunderfunded andÂ underprivileged communitiesâ€ that are â€œmarginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.â€ Critics view DeVos, a billionaire who has worked for decades to promote school choice, or alternatives to traditional public schools, as one of the most anti-public-education secretaries in the departmentâ€™s history.
Giving the books was part of Trumpâ€™s effort to use her platform â€œto help as many children as she can,â€ White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
Those efforts include hosting aÂ roundtable discussionÂ Thursday about the opioid epidemic, including how it affects youths, and speaking at a luncheon on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly about work she hopes to do as anÂ anti-bullying advocate.
The Department of Education chose one high-achieving school in every state toÂ receive a package of books from Trump,Â according to aÂ statementÂ from the White House.
â€œTurning the gesture of sending young school children books into something divisive is unfortunate, but the First Lady remains committed to her efforts on behalf of children everywhere,â€ Grisham said.
In her letter to children receiving the books, Trump called getting an education â€œperhaps the most important and wondrous opportunity of your young lives.â€
â€œYour education will be a lifelong pursuit that will sustain and carry you far beyond your wildest imagination, if you will let it,â€ sheÂ wrote. â€œRemember, the key to achieving your dreams begins with learning to read.â€
On Sept. 6, she encouraged everyone to read a book, and to let every page â€œtake you on an exciting journey.â€
On National #ReadABookDay I encourage everyone to read a book. Let every page educate you & take you on an exciting journey!
â€” Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) September 6, 2017
The Cambridge school system released a statement saying the librarian â€œwas not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district,â€ according to CBSÂ Boston.
â€œWe have counseled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes,â€ the district said in the statement. Representatives from the school system did not respond to requests from The Washington Post for comment.
Phipps Soeiro points to recent literature that addresses potential racism in Seussâ€™s work, including a book by professor of childrenâ€™s literature Philip Nel that argues Seussâ€™s depiction of the Cat in the Hat was based on racial stereotypes and inspired by traditions of blackface entertainment.
She also calls Seuss â€œa bit of aÂ clichÃ©â€ and a â€œtired and worn ambassador for childrenâ€™s literatureâ€ in her letter posted on the Horn Book, a publication covering literature for children and adults.
Many of the comments on Phipps Soeiroâ€™s post commended her for taking a stand, but others suggested she was â€œrudeâ€ and â€œungratefulâ€ not to have accepted Trumpâ€™s gift.
â€œI am appalled by this. How about teaching our children to be grateful for a gift, accept the gift and say thank you?â€ a commenter wrote, responding to Phipps Soeiroâ€™s post.
Parents outside the school told CBS Boston they supported the librarianâ€™s statement.
â€œI think the letter is really articulate, constructive in its suggestions,â€ said parent Alex Vanpraagh.
Seuss has long been associated with childrenâ€™s literacy. The National Education Associationâ€™s annual â€œRead Across Americaâ€ dayÂ â€” when cities and towns across the country host events to celebrate readingÂ â€” is March 2, Seussâ€™s birthday.
â€œOne of the reasons we partnered with Seuss 20 years ago in 1997 was to kick-start this program,â€ NEA spokesmanÂ Steven Grant told the School Library Journal.
â€œThat was the strategy up front, so kids would see Dr. Seussâ€™s Cat in the Hat and spark some attention.â€
HeÂ said an estimated 45 million students and teachers take part inÂ the reading events annually, and that in the past two years, the programâ€™s mission has been shifting toward promoting diverse literature.
But the author still has many admirers, includingÂ President Obama, whoÂ said he is â€œstill a big Dr. Seuss fanâ€ when he visited a library in Southeast Washington in 2015.
He hailed Seuss as â€œone of Americaâ€™s revered wordsmithsâ€ in a presidential proclamation on 2016â€™s Read Across America Day.
â€œTheodor Seuss GeiselÂ â€” or Dr. SeussÂ â€” used his incredible talent to instill in his most impressionable readers universal values we all hold dear,â€ Obama wrote.
â€œThrough a prolific collection of stories, he made children see that reading is fun, and in the process, he emphasized respect for all; pushed us to accept ourselves for who we are; challenged preconceived notions and encouraged trying new things.â€
But Phipps Soeiro wrote that as first lady, Trump has â€œworld-class resourcesâ€ that she could have used to make a choice other than the Seuss books.
â€œJust down the street you have access to a phenomenal childrenâ€™s librarian: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress,â€ she wrote. â€œI have no doubt Dr. Hayden would have given you some stellar recommendations.â€
SheÂ noted that in Cambridge, where yearly per-pupil spending is more than $20,000, her students have access toÂ â€œa school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science.â€
â€œSo, my school doesnâ€™t have a NEED for these books,â€ wrote Phipps Soeiro, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
Other school libraries in cities including Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit are being closed because of expansion, privatization and school choice, she wrote.
â€œAre those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control?â€ she asked.
The Department of Education could not be reached for comment aboutÂ its criteria for selecting Cambridgeport School or the other 49 schools.
The 10 books on the list are: â€œSeuss-isms!â€; â€œBecause a Little Bug Went KaChooâ€; â€œWhat Pet Should I Get?â€; â€œThe Cat in the Hatâ€; â€œI Can Read With My Eyes Shut!â€; â€œOne Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fishâ€; â€œThe Foot Bookâ€; â€œWacky Wednesdayâ€; â€œGreen Eggs and Hamâ€ and â€œOh, the Places Youâ€™ll Go!â€
Phipps Soeiro suggested a reading list of her own 10 books for the first lady and President TrumpÂ â€” â€œitâ€™s the librarian in me,â€ she wroteÂ â€” that focused on themes including children standing up to racism, trying to connect with parents who are incarcerated because of their immigration status and who integrate aspects of their countries of origin into their new countries.
On Tuesday, the elementary schoolâ€™s Twitter account shared a photo of books it recommends.
How do you “Stand Up”? pic.twitter.com/yHOdfVsjpi
â€” CPORT | Specialists (@Cport_Special) September 26, 2017