Melania Trump calls school librarian who declined 'racist' Dr. Seuss books 'divisive'

Elise Solé
Yahoo Beauty
First lady Melania Trump called a librarian who rejected her gift of Dr. Seuss books “divisive.” (Photo: Getty Images)
First lady Melania Trump called a librarian who rejected her gift of Dr. Seuss books “divisive.” (Photo: Getty Images)

A school librarian who rejected a shipment of books from Melania Trump for their “racist undertones” was brandished “divisive” by the first lady.

Liz Phipps Soeiro is a librarian at Cambridgeport School in Massachusetts and the recipient of an honor bestowed to one high-achieving school library in each state. To coincide with National Read a Book Day on Sept. 6, each library received a package of 10 Dr. Seuss books: Seuss-isms!Because a Little Bug Went KaChoo; What Pet Should I Get?The Cat in the HatI Can Read With My Eyes Shut!; One FishTwo Fish, Red Fish, Blue FishThe Foot BookWacky WednesdayGreen Eggs and Ham; and Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Melania has called Oh, the Places You’ll Go! a favorite book, reading it aloud to children at a New York City hospital in March for Read Across America Day (also Dr. Seuss’s birthday), much like Michelle Obama in past years.

However, Phipps Serio declined the shipment, explaining her reasoning on the Horn Blog Tuesday. “Dear Mrs. Trump, my students were interested in reading your enclosed letter and impressed with the beautiful bookplates with your name and the indelible White House stamp,” she wrote. “However, we will not be keeping the titles for our collection. I’d like to respectfully offer my explanation.”

Phipps Serio highlighted her “amazing” school district adding, “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.”

Then, Phipps Serio turned her attention to the subject matter of the books. “So, my school doesn’t have a NEED for these books. And then there’s the matter of the books themselves. You may not be aware of this, but Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliché, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature.”

She continued by name-checking specific books. “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. … 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.”

“You and your husband have a direct impact on these children’s lives,” wrote Phipps Serio. “Please make time to learn about and value them. I hope you share these books with your family and with kids around the country. And I encourage you to reach out to your local librarian for more recommendations.”

Yahoo Lifestyle could not reach Phipps Serio, and her social media channels appear to have been removed. But that didn’t stop people from tweeting their disapproval of the librarian’s gesture.

Stephanie Grisham, White House director of communications, released the following statement to various media outlets. “[The first lady] has demonstrated [her commitment to children] in both actions and words since her husband took office, and sending books to children across the country is but one example. 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.”

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