Melania Trump loved reading Dr. Seussâ€™s â€œOh, the Places Youâ€™ll Go!â€ with her son, Barron, when he was growing up.
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 sendÂ anÂ elementary school in Cambridge, Mass., in celebrationÂ of â€œNational Read a Book Day.â€
But a librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary SchoolÂ is refusing to accept the gift.
Seussâ€™s illustration are â€œsteeped in racist propaganda, caricatures and harmful stereotypes,â€ librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro wrote in a strongly worded letter to Trump on Tuesday.
The librarianâ€™s complaints about the first ladyâ€™s gesture extended beyond her choice of books.
Phipps Soeiro 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.
Gifting 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 round-table discussionÂ Thursday about the opioid epidemic, including how it affects youth, and speaking during a luncheon whenÂ the U.N. General Assembly met about work she hopes to do as anÂ anti-bullying advocate.
The Department of Education chose one high-achieving school in every state to which Trump sent the package of books,Â according to aÂ statementÂ from the White House on Sept. 6.
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 for comment from The Washington Post.
In her letter posted on The Horn Book, a publication covering literature for children and adults, Phipps Soeiro points to recent literature that addresses potential racism in Seussâ€™s work, including â€œWas the Cat in the Hat Black?,â€ 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 literature.â€
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.
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 on March 2, Seussâ€™s birthday.
A task force at NEA came up with the idea for Read Across America in 1997, when the group decided the day to â€œget get kids excited about readingâ€ should be held on Seussâ€™s birthday.
President ObamaÂ said he is â€œstill a big Dr. Seuss fanâ€ when he visited a library in Southeast D.C. 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€
â€œAs First Lady of the United States, you have an incredible platform with world-class resources at your fingertips,â€ Phipps Soeiro wrote. â€œJust 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.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 be immediately reached for comment.
Other school libraries in cities including Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit are being shuttered 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.
The 10 books on the list included: 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, children trying to connect with parents who are incarcerated because of their immigration status and children who integrate aspects of their countries of origin into their new countries.