Liz Phipps Soeiro, the librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School in Cambridge, Masschusetts, said she is rejecting books gifted to the school by First Lady Melania Trump. In recognition of national Read a Book Day, Mrs. Trump offered books penned by famed author Dr. Seuss titles to schools across the country. She chose one school in each state to receive the gift of books.
Phipps Soeiro wrote an open letter to to Mrs. Trump, announcing that she would not accept the gift and explaining that the school did not need them. In an aside, she told the First Lady, "Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliché."
Writing at The Horn Book’s Family Reading blog, Phipps Soeiro wrote, “I work in a district that has plenty of resources, which contributes directly to 'excellence.' Cambridge, Massachusetts, is an amazing city with robust social programming, a responsive city government, free all-day kindergarten, and well-paid teachers.” Phipps Soeiro added, “My students have access to a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science…. Many schools around the state and country can’t compete.”
“Meanwhile, school libraries around the country are being shuttered. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit are suffering through expansion, privatization, and school 'choice' 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?” the librarian asked, in a post that has garnered attention from multiple media outlets.
"You may not be aware of this, but Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliche, a tired and worn ambassador for children's literature," she added. "Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss's illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes."
Before signing off in her letter, Phipps Soeiro thanked Mrs. Trump for the books, but said that while it was a “wonderful gesture, if one that could have been better thought out.”
Phipps Soeiro opined: “Books can be a powerful way to learn about and experience the world around us; they help build empathy and understanding. In return, I’m attaching a list of ten books (it’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 husband’s administration. You and your husband have a direct impact on these children’s lives. Please make time to learn about and value them.”
The Cambridgeport school is not endorsing Phipps Soeiro’s position. According to a statement from the school, “The employee was not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district." The statement continued, "We have counseled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes," the statement added.