September 6 was National Read A Book Day, and to celebrate, First Lady Melania Trump sent out selected works by Dr. Seuss, including Oh The Places You’ll Go!, to one school in each of the 50 states. Not everyone welcomed the 10-book collection, though. Earlier this week, a school librarian in Cambridge, Massachusetts rejected the donation, posting a letter online that explains why she wouldn’t accept this “racist propaganda.”
As The Wrap reports, Cambridge school librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro addressed the literary gift in a letter published at The Horn Book, describing the choice of Dr. Seuss (the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel) as “cliché” among other things. Though Soeiro says she’s proud the First Lady recognized her school’s achievements, she’s respectfully declining to accept the new additions to the library on account of “racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes” in the books. Soeiro writes that If I Ran A Zoo and And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street feature “racist mockery,” linking to a third-party analysis of minstrel imagery in his work.
During WWII, Geisel did draw some racist political cartoons with awful caricatures of Japanese people, as well as anti-black images in ads for some kind of bug repellent. Because some drawings in If I Ran A Zoo bear a striking resemblance, that book’s kicked up some controversy over the years, too. And when the Dr. Seuss museum opened earlier this year, it drew criticism for ignoring Geisel’s history of racist imagery, even if he had tried combat his own legacy with the publication of Horton Hears A Who—whose message of inclusivity is widely believed to have been an apology—as well as some anti-bigotry cartoons.
The director of communications for the First Lady’s office passed along her response to Soeiro’s rejection, which is “to turn the gesture of sending young students some books into something divisive is unfortunate.”
Geisel’s grandnephew Ted Owens was just a tad more upset, telling the Boston Herald that he “never saw one ounce of racism in anything he said, or how he lived his life, or what his stories were about,” presumably having never seen the cartoons. “When you have grinches and sneetches and all his other characters, how can you say that’s racist? His characters are based on made-up characters,” Owens tells the publication. “They’re Sam-I-Am, they’re elephants, Horton Hears A Who.”