‘Racist propaganda’: Librarian rejects Melania Trump’s gift of Dr. Seuss books – Washington Post

Melania Trump loved reading Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” with her son, Barron, when he was growing up.

The first lady, who is increasingly carving out a public profile for herself, chose the classic children’s book and nine other Dr. Seuss titles to send an elementary school in Cambridge, Mass., in celebration of “National Read a Book Day.”

But a librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School is refusing to accept the gift.

Seuss’s illustration are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures and harmful stereotypes,” librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro wrote in a strongly worded letter to Trump on Tuesday.

The librarian’s complaints about the first lady’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 “underfunded and underprivileged communities” that are “marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.” 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 department’s history.

Gifting the books was part of Trump’s effort to use her platform “to help as many children as she can,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said. Those efforts include hosting a round-table discussion Thursday about the opioid epidemic, including how it affects youth, and speaking during a luncheon when the U.N. General Assembly met about work she hopes to do as an anti-bullying advocate.

The Department of Education chose one high-achieving school in every state to which Trump sent the package of books, according to a statement from the White House on Sept. 6.

“Turning 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,” Grisham said.

In her letter to children receiving the books, Trump called getting an education “perhaps the most important and wondrous opportunity of your young lives.”

“Your education will be a lifelong pursuit that will sustain and carry you far beyond your wildest imagination, if you will let it,” she wrote. “Remember, the key to achieving your dreams begins with learning to read.”

On Sept. 6, she encouraged everyone to read a book, and to let every page “take you on an exciting journey.”

The Cambridge school system released a statement saying the librarian “was not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district,” according to CBS Boston.

“We have counseled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes,” 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 Seuss’s work, including “Was the Cat in the Hat Black?,” a book by professor of children’s literature Philip Nel that argues Seuss’s depiction of the Cat in the Hat was based on racial stereotypes and inspired by traditions of blackface entertainment.

She also calls Seuss “a bit of a cliché” and a “tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature.”

Many of the comments on Phipps Soeiro’s post commended her for taking a stand, but others suggested she was “rude” and “ungrateful” not to have accepted Trump’s gift.

Parents outside the school told CBS Boston they supported the librarian’s statement.

“I think the letter is really articulate, constructive in its suggestions,” said parent Alex Vanpraagh.

Seuss has long been associated with children’s literacy. The National Education Association’s annual “Read Across America” day — when cities and towns across the country host events to celebrate reading — is on March 2, Seuss’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 “get get kids excited about reading” should be held on Seuss’s birthday.

President Obama said he is “still a big Dr. Seuss fan” when he visited a library in Southeast D.C. in 2015.

He hailed Seuss as “one of America’s revered wordsmiths” in a presidential proclamation on 2016’s Read Across America Day.

“Theodor Seuss Geisel — or Dr. Seuss — used his incredible talent to instill in his most impressionable readers universal values we all hold dear,” Obama wrote.

“Through 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.”

“As First Lady of the United States, you have an incredible platform with world-class resources at your fingertips,” Phipps Soeiro wrote. “Just down the street you have access to a phenomenal children’s librarian: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress. I have no doubt Dr. Hayden would have given you some stellar recommendations.”

She noted that in Cambridge, where yearly per-pupil spending is more than $20,000, her students have access to “a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science.”

“So, my school doesn’t have a NEED for these books,” 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.

“Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control,” she asked.

The Department of Education could not be reached for comment.

The 10 books on the list included: “Seuss-isms!”; “Because a Little Bug Went KaChoo”; “What Pet Should I Get?”; “The Cat in the Hat”; “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”; “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”; “The Foot Book”; “Wacky Wednesday”; “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!.”

Phipps Soeiro suggested a reading list of her own 10 books for the first lady and President Trump — “it’s the librarian in me,” she wrote — 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.

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