America has entered an era of unprecedented politicization.
Politics permeates every aspect of our lives. Entertainment, which was once a form of escapism, is now a battleground of the culture war. And anyone with a position that puts them in the public eye–no matter how seemingly insignificant–sees their job as an opportunity to become an activist hero.
That includes elementary school librarians.
Liz Phipps Soeiro, librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is coming under fire for penning a letter to Melania Trump in which she claims to be refusing the donation of books sent as part of the First Lady’s National Read a Book Day project.
Per the White House website, Mrs. Trump is sending packages containing 10 Dr. Seuss book to one school in each state. The donation includes famous titles like Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat.
But Soeiro decided to act on behalf of the school and rejected the unique gift, according to her open letter on the Horn Book blog. Soiero’s reasoning: her school isn’t “underprivileged enough.”
“[S]chool 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.”
Soiero closed the thought emphatically: “[M]y school doesn’t have a NEED for these books.” However, she immediately made clear that her issue with Mrs. Trump’s gift ran deeper than a concern for needy schools. Soiero was disappointed with the choice of Dr. Seuss.
“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. …
“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.”
The incensed librarian went on to support her case by citing an article titled “Is the Cat in the Hat Racist?” and a book titled Was the Cat in the Hat Black?
But Soiero makes her criticism constructive by suggesting a list of titles she believes would constitute a more suitable gift. Her picks include:
- Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic
- Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
- Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
- Somos Como Las Nubes / We Are like the Clouds
- Two White Rabbits
Whether elementary school kids would ever be tempted to crack open one of those books is a matter open to debate. However, not everyone shares Soiero’s political views–or taste for literature.
The school district released a statement indicating that the librarian’s opinion does not represent the school’s, the Washington Examiner reported. A representative wrote:
“The employee was not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district. We have counseled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes.”
And social media users haven’t kept quiet.
Dr. Seuss cartoonist/author was a liberal moralist who expressed his views through ridicule, satire, nonsense aimed @ bullies & hypocrites.
— Plain Jane🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸Hold the Line (@plainjane5555) September 29, 2017
Everyone should send this activist librarian dr Seuss books. Can you imagine if she kept getting these books throughout the year. ???
— Steve (@Exhawk500) September 29, 2017
A TRUE librarian would have warmly received such a gift, not use the moment to spew her political views. Dr. Seuss is an American icon.
— Amanda (@DixieTiger40) September 29, 2017
Dr. Seuss really? This librarian should be have a mental evaluation. Who is she to censor? Where does this madness stop? #educate ??????
— Dally dal (@Dallass111) September 29, 2017