To celebrate National read a Book Day, First Lady Melania Trump decided to donate 10 books each to one school in every state. The libraries were selected by the U.S. Department of Education and were the top libraries in standards of excellence. Each library received a letter from the first lady with a package of ten books. The letter, available below, was to students, and told them ““the key to achieving your dreams begins with learning to read.”
While a wonderful gesture, the act left a bad taste for one of the receiving librarians, who took the time to send Trump a very lengthy ‘thank you but no thank you’ letter. The librarian, Liz Phipps Soeiro, from Cambridgeport elementary school in Massachusetts, wrote her response in an open letter format available on the blog site at The Horn Book.
The letter from Soeiro is well-thought out, respectful, and points a finger at the problems in our school system that are being worsened by the policies being set by the Trump administration. The letter begins with a hearty thank you to the first lady.
She continued, explaining that she understood how her school was selected and listing the ten book titles that were sent. Then she requested permission to explain why her school wouldn’t be keeping the books. After that, Soeiro tells of all the advantages her school has and how they managed to achieve their high rating in school excellence. She then gets to the meat of her refusal of the gift, and offers an alternative suggestion to the first lady in awarding future gifts:
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? Why not reflect on those “high standards of excellence” beyond only what the numbers suggest? Secretary DeVos would do well to scaffold and lift schools instead of punishing them with closures and slashed budgets.
Soeiro wasn’t finished though. She opted to add another suggestion, based on the selection of books that were sent and passing on some information that may not have been considered by the first lady:
Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes. Open one of his books (If I Ran a Zoo or And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, for example), and you’ll see the racist mockery in his art. Grace Hwang Lynch’s School Library Journal article, “Is the Cat in the Hat Racist? Read Across America Shifts Away from Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books,” reports on Katie Ishizuka’s work analyzing the minstrel characteristics and trope nature of Seuss’s characters. Scholar Philip Nel’s new book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, further explores and shines a spotlight on the systemic racism and oppression in education and literature.
She attached a list of ten books that might have served the children better. In closing, she again thanked the first lady for the wonderful gesture, and finished with words of encouragement for both the first lady and her husband.
NOTHING in the letter was the least bit disrespectful. NOTHING in the letter suggested that the first lady was in any way a racist pig. NOTHING in the letter warranted the backlash against the librarian that we are seeing online today. The response from the right, as usual, is way off-base, and focuses ONLY on the portion where Soeiro points out that the illustrations in Seuss books have racially biased undertones.
How rude of this librarian. Her priorities seem way off, esp. for a *librarian.*
Just say "Thank you" – and let the kids read.
— Anna Herrington (@JustThinkingNow) September 28, 2017
This teacher needs a reality check. Playing politics over children's books is ridiculous.
— Wayne Trendy (@TrendyNewsBits) September 28, 2017
Based on the initial responses, it is probable that the people who are cussing out the librarian didn’t bother to read her letter, but are expressing their anger because their princess was, in their tiny minds, dissed. Since it is National Read a Book Day, maybe they could start a new trend among themselves by reading the librarian’s letter?
Featured image from NBC New York video