US school librarian explains why she snubbed Melania Trump’s book donation

By @chelean on
U.S. first lady Melania Trump clasps hands with a child as she visits the Joint Base Andrews Youth Center in Maryland, U.S., September 15, 2017.
U.S. first lady Melania Trump clasps hands with a child as she visits the Joint Base Andrews Youth Center in Maryland, U.S., September 15, 2017. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

A librarian at a primary school has rejected the donation of books by US First Lady Melania Trump. Liz Phipps Soeiro of Cambridgeport Elementary School in Massachusetts rejected the 10 Dr Seuss books sent from the White House, saying the books should go to underfunded communities instead.

The donation was part of the National Read a Book Day. Soeiro’s school was selected for its state because it has “achieved high standards of excellence.” Those selected received ten books each, all titles from Dr Seuss.

In her open letter to Trump, she started by thanking the US president’s wife for choosing their school. She also said that the students were “impressed with the beautiful bookplates with your name and the indelible White House stamp.” However, she said they would not be keeping the books.

As she explained, their school and the library were indeed award-winning. They have over nine thousand volumes in the library, have “relatively” well-paid teachers, and good social programming. Although they also have issues with race gap and socioeconomic status, they are doing well on paper.

“Meanwhile, school libraries around the country are being shuttered. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit are suffering through expansion, privatisation 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?” she wrote.

“Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalised 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.”

Soeiro also criticised Trump’s choice of titles, which included “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and “The Cat in the Hat.” As she said, many people were unaware that the illustrations in the Dr Seuss’ books were “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures and harmful stereotypes.”

The librarian recommended ten books that Trump should read instead. The titles include stories about immigration and overcoming racial and gender prejudices.

“You and your husband have a direct impact on these children’s lives. Please make time to learn about and value them,” she wrote.

Soeiro’s school district, meanwhile, said she was not authorised to accept or reject donations on behalf of the school. “We have counselled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes,” the statement (via BBC) reads.

Trump’s communication of director, Stephanie Grisham, has responded to the rejection, saying it was unfortunate that Soeiro turned the gesture into a divisive topic. “The first lady remains committed to her efforts on behalf of children everywhere,” she told NBC.

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