When Cambridgeport Elementary School librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro snarkily refused a donation to the school from Melania Trump of a collection of Dr. Seuss books, she criticized both the Trumps and the books.
She huffed in a letter that her school “does not have a ‘NEED’ for the books.”
Besides, she argued, they’re racist.
“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 wrote. “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.”
Then she attempted to school the first lady by telling her what books she should read.
However, images now have appeared that make it clear that Soeiro’s disgust must have been for the Trumps, not the books.
Because the images show her gleefully dressed as Cat in the Hat just two years ago.
She is wearing a Cat on the Hat costume while holding a Green Eggs and Ham book in one hand and a Cat in the Hat doll in the other during a 2015 Cat in that Hat themed breakfast.
— CPORT | Specialists (@Cport_Special) March 3, 2015
— Steve Milne (@SteveMilneNews) September 29, 2017
As social media users are pointing out, too, former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama both read Dr. Seuss books to children several times during their eight years in the White House.
“Dr. Seuss wasn’t racist then or when Michelle read it to kids or when Obama gave him an award,” one Twitter user noted.
Dr. Seus wasn’t racist then or when Michelle read it to kids or when Obama gave him an award.
— Kathryn Krakowiak (@kkrakowiak104) September 29, 2017
— Mercy Warren (@needajobbad) September 29, 2017
Last March, Obama promoted his “Read Across America” initiative by touting Dr. Seuss, saying, “Pretty much all the stuff you need to know is in Dr. Seuss.”
The current first lady fired back at the school librarian Friday, calling Soeiro’s response “divisive.”
“Mrs. Trump intends to use her platform as First Lady to help as many children as she can. She has demonstrated this in both actions and words since her husband took office, and sending books to schools across the country is but one example,” Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, said in a statement. “Turning the gesture of sending young school children books into something divisive is unfortunate, but the First Lady remains committed to her efforts on behalf of children everywhere.”
Even the Democratic mayor of Dr. Seuss’ hometown sided with the first lady and President Trump.
“One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, I think her comments stink and are ridiculous towards our beloved Dr. Seuss,” Springfield, Massachusetts, Mayor Domenic Sarno said in a message on Springfield’s Facebook page.
Sarno called Soeiro’s claims “political correctness at its worst.”
“Dr. Seuss books continue to be a strong tool in our city’s marked improvements in our reading retention programs,” Sarno wrote. “By the way, kudos to First Lady Melania Trump for her generous offer to donate Dr. Seuss books to that Cambridge school library – they don’t want them – we’ll take them.”
Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Geisel, was pro-civil rights and famously depicted his views about racism in his political cartoons:
The White House selected Cambridgeport as one of 50 academic institutions in the nation to receive donations of Dr. Seuss books on Sept. 1. The books included: “The Cat in the Hat,” “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Soeiro immediately politicized the gesture, stating, “[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.
“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? … [M]y school doesn’t have a NEED for these books,” she continued.
She tried to school the Trumps: “I can think of no better gift for children than books; it was a wonderful gesture, if one that could have been better thought out. In return, I’m attaching a list of ten books…that I hope will offer you a window into the lives of the many children affected by the policies of your husband’s administration.”
School district officials moved themselves away from her attitude.
“The employee was not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district,” an official said in a statement. “We have counseled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes.”