'Librarian in me'

Elementary school librarian rejects books donated by Melania Trump for being ‘steeped in racist propaganda’

First lady Melania Trump gives Dr. Seuss books as gifts to patients at the Queen Fabiola children's hospital, on the sidelines of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, on May 25, 2017, in Brussels. (AURORE BELOT/AFP/Getty Images)

A school librarian in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has sparked controversy after rejecting 10 books sent to her school as a gift from first lady Melania Trump. The donation was made in celebration of “National Read a Book Day” and the same 10 books, all titles by Dr. Seuss, were sent to 49 other high-performing schools — one in each state.

Liz Phipps Soeiro, the school librarian at Cambridge school district’s elementary school, refused to accept the books, saying in an open letter to the first lady that “Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.” Phipps Soeiro also took issue with how her school and the 49 others were selected to receive the donation from the first lady, and wondered why schools in Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit, which are struggling and perhaps more in need of a donation, didn’t end up receiving a gift. “We still struggle to close the achievement gap, retain teachers of color, and dismantle the systemic white supremacy in our institution. But hell, we test well! And in the end, it appears that data — and not children — are what matters,” Phipps Soeiro wrote in her letter. She also criticized the policies of the Education Department under the Trump administration.

In the letter that accompanied her gift, Trump specifically mentioned Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! as one of her favorite books, “one that I’ve read with my son over and over again, and one that we want to share with all of you.” Trump also urged students that “education will be a lifelong pursuit that will sustain and carry you far beyond your wildest imagination, if you will let it.”

The response to Phipps Soeiro rejecting the gift has been mixed, with some sharply criticizing her, and others singing her praises. “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,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told The Washington Post. Trump has given Dr. Seuss books, generally regarded as classic children’s literature, as gifts before, notably to patients at a children’s hospital in Brussels during a visit earlier this year.

Critics struck a similar tone, saying in the comments section of the blog post where the open letter was published that a simple “thank you” to the first lady would’ve sufficed and that the “rude” response was a poor example for students. “How about teaching our children to be grateful for a gift, accept the gift and say thank you?” one commenter wrote beneath the blog post. Others criticized her for politicizing a gesture made to promote children’s education.

But some parents were vocal in their support of the librarian. “I think the letter is really articulate, constructive in its suggestions,” Alex Vanpraagh, a parent of a student at the school, told a local Boston TV station.

In fact, Phipps Soeiro offered a couple of solutions to the problem she said she saw with Trump’s gift and suggested that the first lady could have consulted with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, “a phenomenal children’s librarian,” to get suggestions on titles that weren’t “tired” and “cliche.” And, Phipps Soeiro offered Trump the titles of 10 books that she suggested the first lady and president could benefit from reading. “It’s the librarian in me,” Phipps Soeiro said about her suggested reading list. A photograph showing the covers of those books was posted on the school district’s Twitter account.

However, the school system reportedly issued a statement saying that Phipps Soeiro was “not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district” and that the librarian has been counseled “on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes.”

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is independent of and separate from any views of The New York Times.