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School librarian turns down Melania Trump’s gift of Dr Seuss books

Washington: One of Melania Trump’s favourite books is Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, which she read with her son, Barron, “over and over” when he was younger.

The first lady – who is increasingly carving out a public profile for herself – chose the classic children’s book and nine other Dr. Seuss titles to send to an elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in celebration of National Read a Book Day.

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But a librarian at Cambridgeport School refused to accept the gift, criticising Trump administration education policies and images in the books.

Seuss’ illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes”, librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro wrote in a letter to Ms Trump on Tuesday.

The librarian wrote that rather than sending books to a well-funded elementary school in Cambridge, Ms Trump should instead be devoting resources to schools in “underfunded and underprivileged communities” that are “marginalised and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos”.

Critics view Ms DeVos – a billionaire who has worked for decades to promote school choice, or alternatives to traditional public schools – as one of the most anti-public-education secretaries in the department’s history.

Giving the books was part of Ms Trump’s effort to use her platform “to help as many children as she can”, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.

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Those efforts include hosting a roundtable discussion on Thursday about the opioid epidemic, including how it affects youths, and speaking at a luncheon on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly about work she hopes to do as an anti-bullying advocate.

Melania Trump chose 10 Dr. Seuss titles to send to an elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Melania Trump chose 10 Dr. Seuss titles to send to an elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo: AP

The Department of Education chose one high-achieving school in every state to receive a package of books from Ms Trump, according to a statement from the White House.

“Turning the gesture of sending young schoolchildren books into something divisive is unfortunate, but the first lady remains committed to her efforts on behalf of children everywhere,” Ms Grisham said.

A mural featuring Theodor Seuss Geisel at The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, in Massachusetts.
A mural featuring Theodor Seuss Geisel at The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, in Massachusetts. Photo: AP

In her letter to children receiving the books, Ms Trump called getting an education “perhaps the most important and wondrous opportunity of your young lives”.

“Your education will be a lifelong pursuit that will sustain and carry you far beyond your wildest imagination, if you will let it,” she wrote. “Remember, the key to achieving your dreams begins with learning to read.”

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On September 6, she encouraged everyone to read a book, and to let every page “take you on an exciting journey”.

The Cambridge school system released a statement saying the librarian “was not authorised to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district”, according to CBS Boston.

“We have counselled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes,” the district said in the statement.

Representatives from the school system did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms Phipps Soeiro points to recent literature that addresses potential racism in Seuss’ work, including a book by professor of children’s literature Philip Nel that argues Seuss’ depiction of the Cat in the Hat was based on racial stereotypes and was inspired by traditions of blackface entertainment.

She also calls Seuss “a bit of a cliche” and a “tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature” in her letter posted on the Horn Book, a publication covering literature for children and adults.

Many of the comments on Ms Phipps Soeiro’s post commended her for taking a stand, but others suggested she was rude and ungrateful not to have accepted Ms Trump’s gift.

“I am appalled by this. How about teaching our children to be grateful for a gift, accept the gift and say thank you?” a commenter wrote, responding to Ms Phipps Soeiro’s post.

Parents outside the school told CBS Boston they supported the librarian’s statement.

“I think the letter is really articulate, constructive in its suggestions,” said parent Alex Vanpraagh.

Seuss has long been associated with children’s literacy. The National Education Association’s annual Read Across America Day – when cities and towns across the US host events to celebrate reading – is March 2, Seuss’ birthday.

“One of the reasons we partnered with Seuss 20 years ago in 1997 was to kick-start this program,” NEA spokesman Steven Grant told the School Library Journal.

“That was the strategy up front, so kids would see Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat and spark some attention.”

He said an estimated 45 million students and teachers took part in the reading events annually, and that in the past two years, the program’s mission had been shifting towards promoting diverse literature.

But the author still has many admirers, including former president Barack Obama, who said he was “still a big Dr. Seuss fan” when he visited a library in south-east Washington in 2015.

He hailed Seuss as “one of America’s revered wordsmiths” in a presidential proclamation on 2016’s Read Across America Day.

“Theodor Seuss Geisel – or Dr. Seuss – used his incredible talent to instil in his most impressionable readers universal values we all hold dear,” Mr Obama wrote.

“Through a prolific collection of stories, he made children see that reading is fun, and in the process, he emphasised respect for all; pushed us to accept ourselves for who we are; challenged preconceived notions; and encouraged trying new things.”

But Ms Phipps Soeiro wrote that Ms Trump, as first lady, has “world-class resources” that she could have used to make a choice other than the Seuss books.

“Just down the street you have access to a phenomenal children’s librarian: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress,” she wrote. “I have no doubt Dr. Hayden would have given you some stellar recommendations.”

She noted that in Cambridge, where yearly per-pupil spending is more than $20,000, her students had access to “a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science”.

“So, my school doesn’t have a NEED for these books,” wrote Ms Phipps Soeiro, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

Other school libraries in cities including Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit were being closed because of expansion, privatisation and school choice, she wrote.

“Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control?” she asked.

The Department of Education could not be reached for comment about its criteria for selecting Cambridgeport School or the other 49 schools.

The 10 books on the list are: Seuss-isms!; Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo; What Pet Should I Get?; The Cat in the Hat; I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; The Foot Book; Wacky Wednesday; Green Eggs and Ham; and Oh, the Places You’ll Go!.

Ms Phipps Soeiro suggested a reading list of her own 10 books for the first lady and President Donald Trump – “it’s the librarian in me,” she wrote – that focused on themes including children standing up to racism, trying to connect with parents who are incarcerated because of their immigration status and who integrate aspects of their countries of origin into their new countries.

Source

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/world/school-librarian-rejects-melania-trumps-gift-of-dr-seuss-books-20170929-gyrdw4.html

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