First lady Melania Trump fired back Friday at a Massachusetts elementary school librarian who rejected her donation of Dr. Seuss books, claiming their illustrations are examples of “racist propaganda.”
Stephanie Grisham, director of communications for the first lady's office, said in a statement to Fox News that the response was "unfortunate," and Mrs. Trump wanted to use her platform "to help as many children as she can."
"She has demonstrated this in both actions and words since her husband took office, and sending books to children across the country is but one example," she said. "To turn the gesture of sending young students some books into something divisive is unfortunate, but the First Lady remains committed to her efforts on behalf of children everywhere."
To celebrate “National Read a Book Day,” the first lady had sent out a collection of 10 Dr. Seuss books to one school in each state across the nation. The titles included: "The Cat in the Hat"; "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish"; "Wacky Wednesday"; "Green Eggs and Ham"; and "Oh, the Places You’ll Go!"
She followed in the footsteps of her predecessor, Michelle Obama, who often read Dr. Seuss books to children. Former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush also read to children at Dr. Seuss-themed educational events.
'To turn the gesture of sending young students some books into something divisive is unfortunate.'
“I wanted to send you a special gift. Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is a book my son and I have read over and over again, and one that we want to share with all of you,” the first lady wrote in her letter to students. “Please also remember that you are the future of America and that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.”
But despite the gesture, Liz Phipps Soeiro, a librarian at a public school in Cambridge, wrote a letter to the first lady, which was then published on The Horn Book blog, notifying Mrs. Trump that her school would “not be keeping the titles” for their collection, explaining that her school didn’t have a “NEED” for the books, due to her school and library’s “award-winning” status.
“I work in a district that has plenty of resources, which contributes directly to ‘excellence,’” Soeiro wrote. “My students have access to a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science.”
Soeiro went on to slam the White House and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for not gifting the books to “underfunded and underprivileged communities,” which she suggested “continue to be marginalized” by DeVos’ policies.
But Soeiro seemed to be the most offended by the books themselves.
“Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes,” Soeiro wrote, giving examples of "If I Ran a Zoo" and "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" as clear “racist mockery” in Seuss’ art.
'My students have access to a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science.'
Soeiro seemed to recommend journal articles, reports, and books for Mrs. Trump, to inform her on the “systemic racism and oppression in education and literature.”
“I am honored that you recognized my students and our school. I can think of no better gift for children than books; it was a wonderful gesture, if one that could have been better thought out,” Soeiro wrote, attaching a list of 10 books that she hoped would “offer 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,” Soeiro wrote, encouraging the first lady to “reach out” to their “local librarian” for recommendations. “Please make time to learn about and value them.”
Soeiro’s profile on The Horn Book says she is “an advocate for inclusive libraries and active in her community to create spaces that are welcoming to all students.”