by Alexandra Holmes
First Lady and former model Melania Trump donated Dr. Seuss books to a school in Cambridge, Massachusetts in honor of National Read a Book Day, which was September 6th. The school’s librarian rejected the donation of books and published a statement that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.” Mrs. Trump sent out collections of 10 Dr. Seuss books to one school in each state, including the classic “Cat in the Hat”.
Cambridgeport Elementary School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also being home to Ivy-League School, Harvard University, was one of the schools selected. Liz Phipps Soeiro, the school’s librarian, who has a graduate degree in library science, rejected The First Lady’s book donation and wrote an editorial piece on Horn Book’s Family Reading blog explaining why.
Before this, Mrs. Trump has publically stated her passion for children’s education saying “Getting an education is perhaps the most important and wondrous opportunity of…young lives.” She and The White House said they worked “with the Department of Education to identify schools…that have achieved high standards of excellence.”
Soeiro wrote in her response that the school did not need the books, saying: “My students have access to a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science.” She also followed up her reasoning with her issue of the content and selection of 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,” wrote Soeiro. “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.”
Soeiro even provided a School Library Journal article written by Grace Hwang Lynch Is The Cat in the Hat Racist? Read Across America Shifts Away From Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books. The article covers Dr. Seuss’s career background before becoming the beloved author renowned to us all. During World War II, Dr. Seuss made political cartoons “featuring slurs and racist drawings of Japanese Americans, portraying them as a danger to nation,” wrote Lynch.
The article then turns to attack The Cat in the Hat, Seuss’s perhaps most famous character. Katie Ishizuka has analyzed Seuss’s books for years, and she, with her husband, founded the Conscious Kid Social Justice Library, a subscription service which sends monthly shipments of books featuring multicultural characters to subscribers.
“The Cat’s physical appearance, including the Cat’s oversized top hat, floppy bow tie, white gloves, and frequently open mouth, mirrors actual blackface performers; as does the role he plays as ‘entertainer’ to the white family—in whose house he doesn’t belong,” says Ishizuka.
Soeiro ends her statement to Mrs. Trump graciously, writing she is “honored” her students were recognized and “it was a wonderful gesture, if one that could have been better thought out.” The librarian even attaches a list of her own book suggestions, writing she hopes “(the books) will offer you a window into the lives of the many children affected by the policies of your husband’s administration.”
Cambridge Public Schools not long after issued a statement, saying they support their employees’ ability to state their opinions, but the blog Soeiro published does not reflect any official stance for the school itself. “While we enthusiastically support the political engagement and passion of our employees…our school district did not authorize any such statement,” the district said.