Massachusetts school librarian rejects First Lady’s gift of Dr. Seuss books because they’re “racist propaganda”

September 29, 2017 • 10:00 am

I’ve always been skeptical when hearing that the Regressive Left—in particular its identity politics and call-out culture (often over trivial matters)—was partly responsible for Trump’s election. I’d like to believe that, as I constantly kvetch over the fractionation of the Left, but of course what you’d like to believe is no guide to what’s true. (Needless to say, I’d have much preferred Hillary to be elected.) But now I’m starting to believe that claim, for some Trump voters have sometimes said it, and the often risible machinations of the Regressive Left—involving policing of language, blatant authoritarianism, scattergun accusations that opponents are racists, sexists, and Nazis, and the endless jockeying for the status of Most Oppressed—all of this has been reported by right-wing websites as well as mainstream sites like the New York Times. America comes to hear about this stuff. And things like the following suggest that Ideological Purists, who can’t resist lecturing others in a sanctimonious way, are indeed hurting the Left.

First, though, in 2010, President Obama proclaimed a “Read Across America Day”, which, not coincidentally, was the birthday of famed children’s book author Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel). Here, from the AP, is a photo of Michelle Obama reading Dr. Seuss’s classic The Cat in the Hat (1957) to some students on that day:

Michelle Obama reads a racist polemic aloud to children!

Little did the First Lady know she was reading a racist book and promoting a racist man! If only she’d known! But was Dr. Seuss a racist, and The Cat in the Hat an example of “racist propaganda” for children, unconsciously imbuing them with bigotry? Well, a Pecksniffian librarian in Cambridge, Massachusetts seems to think so.

It starts with this letter from the new First Lady, who sent a selection of Dr. Seuss books to 50 schools, one per state, to encourage reading.

Regardless of what you think of Donald or Melania Trump, that seems like a nice gesture, right?

Not to Liz Phipps Soeiro, a sanctimonious school librarian at Cambridgeport School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who decided to use the occasion to lecture The First Lady on the inappropriateness of the book, the racism of Dr. Seuss, and also to provide Melania with a list of “alternative” books that conform to a Leftist ideology. The letter is reproduced at The Horn Book, a site devoted to books for children and young adults.

Here are a few excerpts from Soeiro’s long letter, which begins with her asserting her privilege (note the snarky comment about the expense of sending it by two-day mail):

Thank you for the ten Dr. Seuss titles that you sent my school library in recognition of this year’s National Read a Book Day. (Sent second-day air, no less! That must have been expensive.) I’m proud that you recognized my school as something special. It truly is. Our beautiful and diverse student body is made up of children from all over the world; from different socioeconomic statuses; with a spectrum of gender expressions and identities; with a range of abilities; and of varied racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

According to the White House website, you selected one school per state by “working with the Department of Education to identify schools with programs that have achieved high standards of excellence, recognized by State and National awards and Blue Ribbon Awards…” Each of those carefully vetted schools received ten books: Seuss-isms!Because a Little Bug Went KaChoo; What Pet Should I Get?The Cat in the HatI Can Read with My Eyes Shut!; One FishTwo Fish, Red Fish, Blue FishThe Foot BookWacky WednesdayGreen Eggs and Ham; and Oh, the Places You’ll Go!.

My students were interested in reading your enclosed letter and impressed with the beautiful bookplates with your name and the indelible White House stamp, however, we will not be keeping the titles for our collection. I’d like to respectfully offer my explanation.

My school and my library are indeed award-winning. I work in a district that has plenty of resources, which contributes directly to “excellence.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, is an amazing city with robust social programming, a responsive city government, free all-day kindergarten, and well-paid teachers (relatively speaking — many of us can’t afford to live in the city in which we teach). My students have access to a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science. . . .” etc. etc. etc.

First, she chastises Trump for not sending books to poorer schools, and then goes on to argue that Dr. Seuss’s books are not only a “cliché”, but racist to boot:

So, my school doesn’t have a NEED for these books. 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. As First Lady of the United States, you have an incredible platform with world-class resources at your fingertips. Just down the street you have access to a phenomenal children’s librarian: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress. I have no doubt Dr. Hayden would have given you some stellar recommendations.

Another fact that many people are unaware of is that 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. Grace Hwang Lynch’s School Library Journal article, “Is the Cat in the Hat Racist? Read Across America Shifts Away from Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books,” reports on Katie Ishizuka’s work analyzing the minstrel characteristics and trope nature of Seuss’s characters. Scholar Philip Nel’s new book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, further explores and shines a spotlight on the systemic racism and oppression in education and literature.

Well, I read a lot of Dr. Seuss books, and I never suspected they were marinated in bigotry.

Finally, again “respectfully”, Soeiro submits her list of alternative books while lecturing both Donald and Melania on immigration policy:

I am honored that you recognized my students and our school. 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. Books can be a powerful way to learn about and experience the world around us; they help build empathy and understanding. In return, I’m attaching a list of ten books (it’s the librarian in me) that I hope will offer you a window into the lives of the many children affected by the policies of your husband’s administration. You and your husband have a direct impact on these children’s lives. Please make time to learn about and value them.

You can have a look at that list. The ten books all appear to be good ones, and should be in every school library catering to young people, but of course they’re all on the ideological left: dealing with oppressed minorities, immigrants, and refugees. This is explicitly an attempt to lecture the Trumps about the President’s reprehensible stand on immigration. But this is not the time or place (Soeiro is, after all, a public school librarian acting in her official capacity), and of course every book has a political end to it, which is not going to endear the librarian to either middle America or those, like me, who think that there are good children’s books without a political agenda.

There were better ways for Soeiro to get her message out, if she felt compelled. For example, she could have orchestrated a big “thank you” from the children at her institution that will read the book, and in return offered a list of other books that they also highly recommend. That would have gotten out the names of her preferred books without any bad feeling or bad manners. Note, too, that Soeiro released her letter, making it public, so she cared about more than simply enlightening Melania Trump. Could it be that she wanted to flaunt her own moral purity?

But back to the question: was Dr. Seuss really racist in his books? Did they have bigoted or political ends? What’s clear is that Seuss did draw propaganda art during World War II: caricaturing Japanese (“Japs”) and Germans, and also supporting the reprehensible wartime incarceration in detention camps of Japanese who were American citizens. I can forgive the depersonalization and caricaturing the enemy during wartime more than favoring incarceration of Americans, but both are objectionable. Nevertheless, as Wikipedia reports, Geisel decried bigotry against blacks and Jews during the war, and after the war became pretty much a mainstream liberal:

Geisel was a liberal Democrat and a supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. His early political cartoons show a passionate opposition to fascism, and he urged action against it both before and after the United States entered World War II. His cartoons portrayed the fear of communism as overstated, finding greater threats in the House Un-American Activities Committee and those who threatened to cut the US “life line”  to Stalin and the USSR, whom he once depicted as a porter carrying “our war load”.

Geisel supported the Japanese American internment during World War II. His treatment of the Japanese and of Japanese Americans (between whom he often failed to differentiate) has struck many readers as a moral blind spot. On the issue of the Japanese, he is quoted as saying:

But right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seems like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: “Brothers!” It is a rather flabby battle cry. If we want to win, we’ve got to kill Japs, whether it depresses John Haynes Holmes or not. We can get palsy-walsy afterward with those that are left.

After the war, though, Geisel overcame his feelings of animosity, using his book Horton Hears a Who! (1954) as an allegory for the Hiroshima bombing and the American post-war occupation of Japan, as well as dedicating the book to a Japanese friend.

In 1948, after living and working in Hollywood for years, Geisel moved to La Jolla, California, a predominantly Republican town.

Geisel converted a copy of one of his famous children’s books into a polemic shortly before the end of the 1972–74 Watergate scandal, in which United States president Richard Nixon resigned, by replacing the name of the main character everywhere that it occurred. “Richard M. Nixon, Will You Please Go Now!” was published in major newspapers through the column of his friend Art Buchwald.

The line “a person’s a person, no matter how small!!” from Horton Hears a Who! has been used widely as a slogan by the pro-life movement in the U.S., despite the objections of Geisel’s widow. The line was first used in such a way in 1986; he demanded a retraction and received one.

He also said that he explicitly eschewed having a moral point to his books, as that turned off children. Well, even that might have masked an unconscious racism, as the Sanctimonious Librarian implies by asking Melania Trump to read Grace Hwang Lynch’s article on the racism of The Cat in the Hat.  That article is pretty much boilerplate postmodernist language policing, cooking up a racist agenda that isn’t at all obvious, hasn’t been obvious to generations of kids, and certainly wasn’t obvious to Michelle Obama.

Here’s part of Lynch’s analysis as published in the School Library Journal, which itself quotes an earlier analysis by Katie Ishizuka:

“In addition to how people of color are portrayed in his children’s books through Orientalist and anti-Black stereotypes and caricatures, they are almost always presented as subservient, and peripheral to, the white characters,” concludes Ishizuka in her study. She points out that the Cat in the Hat, perhaps Seuss’ most famous character, is based on minstrel stereotypes. “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. She isn’t the first scholar to point out racial stereotypes in Dr. Seuss’ picture books. Kansas State University English professor Phillip Nel recently published a book Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism in Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, which examines The Cat in the Hat’s roots in blackface minstrelsy.

Pardon me, but this appears forced, and, I suspect, you could draw such a conclusion from nearly any book if you need to make your living as a scholar by so doing. There’s no evidence that Seuss was an anti-black racist, nor that he intended to portray that in The Cat in The Hat. What we have are unsupported and unconvincing speculations.

Well, was Geisel’s bigotry unconscious? That would be a stretch. Michelle Obama couldn’t see it, nor could many other adults, nor the gazillions of kids who have enjoyed this book. Leave it to Grace Hwang Lynch to set us all straight!

And here we have a problem that tars the Left: policing of literature for ideological impurities, unsubstantiated claims that they’ve found such impurities, and then attempts to censor the books—or at least keep the kids from reading them by offering ideologically more congenial books.

Now don’t get me wrong: Soeiro’s list of alternatives is fine, though narrow, and kids should read them. But that doesn’t mean that children should abjure the eternal classics of Dr. Seuss. What I object to is Soeiro’s ungracious lecturing of Melania Trump, a lecturing that will have no effect on our administration but will alienate Middle America just as it alienated me. People do NOT like to be told what they can or cannot read, or be accused of racism because they like Dr. Seuss. Soreiro is pompous and condescending, and I reject her letter with its hypocritical “thank yous” and “respectfullys.”

This incident has already been reported widely in the mainstream media, including CBS, Boston Magazine, the New York Daily News, the Washington Post, and so on. Despite some approbation of Soeiro’s letter by commenters (there are, after all, some Pecksniffians and eternal Trump-haters among them), Ms. Soreiro doesn’t come off looking good. The Post, in fact, reports that she got sent to the principal’s office for her actions:

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

“We have counseled 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 from The Washington Post for comment.

It is just this kind of sanctimonious virtue signaling, and wild accusations of racism, that is going to get Trump elected in 2020 if it keeps up. Way to go, Ms. Soreiro!

We liberals, of course, need to maintain our principles of defending the oppressed and fighting racism, but this isn’t the way to do it—not by turning a gracious gesture into a lecture on ideological purity. It looks authoritarian, and it is.

h/t: Darren, Grania




124 thoughts on “Massachusetts school librarian rejects First Lady’s gift of Dr. Seuss books because they’re “racist propaganda”

  1. they’re all on the ideological left: dealing with oppressed minorities, immigrants, and refugees.

    But these issues, refugees, immigrants & oppressed people- are these not issues for humanity? What about them makes them the domain of the ideological left? I worry that this sort of framing contributes to the politicization of issues that ought not be partisan.

    1. What makes them the domain of the left is not the issues themselves, but the positions the books take on the issues. How one handles such issues is a matter of policy and politics. The subjects aren’t ideologically left, but the treatment is.

      I believe that’s what Jerry means when he says all the suggested books conform to left-wing ideology. Whether or not we agree with the positions isn’t the point. The point is we shouldn’t be trying to indoctrinate children into our own politics by policing the literature they are allowed to access through their education.

      1. The point is we shouldn’t be trying to indoctrinate children into our own politics by policing the literature they are allowed to access through their education.

        With this, I wholeheartedly agree. I’m in the ‘more books for everyone!’ camp myself.

    2. Do I have to enact the emotional labor to inform you that in recent history the Republicans have been far more anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-women, and nativist than the Democrats? And yes, some issues about immigration can be debated.

      The librarian was trying to use the letter to criticize Trump for his views on immigration. That’s fine for a private citizen, but not a librarian for a public school. And, as I said, there are far better ways to make her point than she did, which is hamhanded in ways that are politically damaging to her cause.

      1. I agree that she was sanctimonious in the extreme, and is not doing any favors to the reputation of librarians as a whole.

        I suppose my other point is this: I agree that in recent decades the right has become as you describe above. I want to go back to a time where we’re debating economics rather than the age of the earth, or whether women should have reproductive autonomy, or whether we should treat certain people as less than full citizens. I want to debate fiscal responsibility with my republican counterparts. I want to talk about conservation, as a fundamental core of their party. We need to remind the republican party of what they actually used to stand for, something much better than the Trump iteration of today.

        1. It would be helpful to remind the Democrats what they used to stand for too (so long as we don’t look too far back in time…). “Baskets full of deplorables” and the idiocy embodied in this librarian won’t win many more elections. To the Dems I would say; “disavow this nonsense or stay where you are – second place in a two person race”.

          1. Have you forgotten that Clinton won the popular vote by three million? Many reasons have been offered as to why Clinton lost by narrow margins in several key rust belt states. Identity politics probably played a role, but Clinton’s failure to get out the base probably played a bigger one, which, in turn, was part of her poorly run campaign.

          2. I have not forgotten. Democratic apologists for their electoral failures bring it up at every opportunity. The Republicans are better at politics. The Democrats either have to face that fact -and adjust their “Baskets of deplorables” approach to campaigning- or face difficult elections in the future. I don’t believe that in this regard the party is capable of even modest reform and weep for the future of the country. I have given up on them.

          3. Where sports metaphors are concerned I’ve thought of it in terms of time spent in possession in the ball. It’s something that matters, and can correlate with winning, but it’s not directly how you win.

      2. I think that Republicans are anti illegal immigrant, not (at least at the policy level), anti immigrant. I know that most of the Left, at least recently, won’t admit a difference, but …

          1. The article you link to states that a sizable number of Republicans in Congress oppose Trump’s plan.

            As I understand Trump’s position, he feels that we have enough no- or low-skilled labor people in the US. He feels that these folks drain resources more than contribute (their taxes don’t cover their costs). He wants immigrants who can more or less pay their way. Whether this is a good idea or not is arguable, but it doesn’t make him necessarily anti immigration.

            At this point, Trump is so reviled by the Left, that if he brushes his teeth, they will yell that he’s using the wrong toothpaste, as this situation with Melania illustrates.

          2. Trump feels we have enough low-skilled immigrant labor in the US?

            That’s a laugh. Every year he imports low skilled employees from the third-world to work at his Mar-a-Lago resort and Jupiter FL golf club — even though there are plenty of American workers available in Palm Beach County to fill those jobs. The US workers simply aren’t tractable enough for the Donald’s tastes. (Trump and daughter Ivanka also have their chi-chi clothing lines made in the third-world, instead of employing American labor.)

            I think Historian’s point is that there is a very large, and even-more vocal, contingent in the Republican Party that is anti-immigrant of any type, to the point of xenophobia — and the Party’s shrinking establishment wing hasn’t the brains or balls to take them on, for fear of being labelled RINOs and drawing primary challengers from the far right. That’s why we can’t have comprehensive immigration reform in this country. Just ask the four Republicans from the “Gang of Eight” who tried the last time in 2013.

    3. Those books are polemics.

      Three of them, Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation, Somos Como Las Nubes and Two White Rabbits use pathos to promote the partisan political position of amnesty for illegal immigrants / open borders.

      The Boy & the Bindi and Red: A Crayon’s Story, emphasize crossdressing, while the latter has been used to promote the concept that sex is just a social construct.

      Of the ten, five are about immigrants, two about transgenders, two take place in foreign countries — one with a feminist slant, the other with a protagonist in a wheelchair that’s “incidental to the story”, the tenth written in hip hop verse.

      And, as we see from the link I’ve shared downstream, the intent is not to add such works to the canon, but rather replace the canon with a politicized, exclusive SJW, reading list.

    1. Tough to win reelection with an approval rating mired in the 30s. Be even tougher to pull off another landslide victory of minus 3 million votes.

      1. Do not underestimate the vagaries of the American public. Approval ratings in the 30s might seem a dead prospect, but in a country with fewer than half the eligible voters actually voting, it isn’t a slam dunk that Trump’s abysmal polls will keep him a one termer -especially because the Dems rely on the demographic that votes the least.

      2. Well, his approval rating is in the 40s these days. Maybe higher after the NFL thing. More to the point, no-one else has better numbers. It’s not like either his defeat or his re-election is an odd-on favorite. If you oppose Trump it’s silly to continually alienate even small sections of the electorate and drive them to him.

    2. I think I catch your drift

      What I came over here to add is : when this sort of thing happens, when people make a scene in the particular way this went down, they are just handing Trump supporters everything they need – despite the useful things that come out of it.

      I’m not sure how else to put it, it becomes a long comment.

  2. “fractionation” — Thought for a second you were tryin’ to get over on us with that one, boss, like “the Kingfish” springing a made-up word on poor Amos ‘n’ Andy (to get as politically incorrect as possible, given the topic). But no. I looked it up; it’s a real word.

  3. I don’t know why people have to look for racism in Dr. Seuss books. Isn’t there enough racism in the world already? Why the need to search for it? I think people who do that must be terribly unhappy and possibly paranoid. I also suspect that most of the folks who engage in that behavior are not slapped in the face with racism every day.

    1. Indeed, isn’t there enough racism in the world already? I don’t know why people have to look to invent racism, even in the children’s books of Dr. Seuss. Why the need to search for it? For the Authoritarian Left, there is. The reason for its need to do this is plain as day. Thank you to Jerry and everyone else for shining a light on this. We need more light.

    2. There’s a very simple reason why they have to look for racism in Dr. Seuss’ books: they’re Puritans. And as Ambrose Bierce taught us, Puritanism is “[t]he haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Macaulay also had a memorable quip on this subject: “The Puritan hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.” And they’re doing what Puritans do: they police people’s pleasures. That explains the triviality of most of what gets SJWs up in arms. It’s not trivial at all to them. They want to stamp out all enjoyment in life and they’re merely doing so under the guise of progressive politics rather than Christian theocracy.

      It’s a very consistent pattern when you look at it: they’ve gone after video games, comic books, movies, genre fiction, classic literature, Halloween costumes, paintings, children’s books, etc., etc., etc. Practically any outlet for enjoyment is being policed by these people so that none of us can have fun except in ways that further the cause of social justice. Indeed, social justice is Serious Business, and we have to be po-faced and humorless as we go about our business. If you do wish to crack a smile at something, then it has to be something about which the broader community can concur is funny, and this includes people who can even read Judith Butler without laughing.

      1. I absolutely agree.

        For me, the ultimate enemy is not leftists or rightists, it’s authoritarians. Of which puritanism is a prime manifestation.


  4. ‘Our beautiful and diverse student body is made up of children from all over the world; from different socioeconomic statuses; with a spectrum of gender expressions and identities….’

    Chinese schools must be awful, being made up as they are of 95% Han ethnicity.

    Why is diversity , per se, a good thing?

    Diversity of skin colour in a classroom is no more an objective to be strived for and praised than diversity of eye colour.

    1. Being maximally generous to their position, you can make a good argument that one’s school peers being a rough approximation of one’s future workplace and social peers is desirable.

      Incidentally this is part of why religious enclaves tend to be a bad thing, as Europe is in the process of re-learning.

      1. “you can make a good argument that one’s school peers being a rough approximation of one’s future workplace and social peers is desirable.”

        Except that fails as an argument for diversity if ones future workplace is predominantly e.g. white – as it may be, depending on circumstances.

        I think a degree of diversity is desirable to teach kids that their colour/culture is not universal. How the diversity is achieved is a whole different argument.


  5. As a classical musician, I’ve come across two parallels to this. The first is Handel’s Messiah, and especially the Hallelujah chorus, which two scholars, Michael Marissen and Tassilo Erhardt, try to portray as anti-Semitic, the first more forcefully. They do this by implicating Charles Jennens’ libretto, which they say deliberately uses biblical verses that were understood as anti-Judaic (i.e. anti the Jewish religion, rather than Jews as an ethnic group) in their day, as well as Handel’s music, which supposedly employs musical motives that mock Jews, as well as deliberate exaggeration (including what Marissen claims is “over the top” rejoicing in the Hallelujah chorus, the text of which refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD70.

    The other parallel is my beloved Richard Wagner, who was one of Europe’s most vociferous anti-Semites. He wrote voluminously against them. When I say “write”, I mean articles and essays, not music or opera texts. Since about the 1960s various attempts have been made to show that anti-Semitism also pervades his music dramas.

    Both of these cases strike me as falling flat for much the same reasons as criticisms of Dr Seuss. None of them were recognised as anti-Semitic/Judaic at the time they were produced or for long afterwards (more than a quarter of a millennium in Messiah’s case), so if that was the authors’ / composers’ intent, they utterly blew it. It seems to take regressive leftists to find what they want in anything. I have no doubt that every item on Soeiro’s “unobjectionable” list could be shot down on the grounds of racism by another equally fanatical regressive leftist with a PoV about 0.0008 of a degree off Soeiro’s.

  6. “…I suspect, you could draw such a conclusion from nearly any book if you need to make your living as a scholar by so doing.”

    That’s exactly what I thought as I read the end of the previous indented section. Very much enjoyed this whole post. I’m wondering if The Lorax was intentionally not sent. It’s one of the best with a powerful message about what will happen if we don’t care about the environment. I see some parallels between Trump and the Once-ler. Maybe it was not intentional. Not sure. The books were a nice idea.

    1. I’m wondering if The Lorax was intentionally not sent.

      I’m quite sure it was intentionally omitted. That was one Seuss book I never read until I was an adult, though we had many of the others.

  7. I was struck by the fact that someone made a decision to send books to a school where they are able to spend $20,000 a year per pupil and have a class ratio of 12:1. That level of funding is nearly twice the national average. My kids routinely sat in classes of 30+. Whether or not Dr. Seuss contains racist imagery, is a red herring. And the Trump family once again proves to be clueless and entitled.

    1. +1

      What’s the best way to punctuate the disconnect between the president’s administration and the working poor? Send the ten most common Dr. Seuss books to one of the wealthiest schools in the country.

      Schools in Detroit are closing and Michigan schools are failing thanks in big part to current Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos’s antics prior to her current position.

  8. Melania Trump’s letter was very nice and the librarian is so far off target she’s undermining her, probably, well intentioned objectives.

    Melania should adjust the emphasis of reading being a key ingredient to achieving one’s goals. Comprehension, especially from Dr. Seuss’ works, is far from a reading experience. The experience of being read the stories is critical for so many kids whose reading compression is vastly inferior to their contemporaries. And American education would do well to recognize that many, particular, boys, would accomplish a great deal more if they were tested on how they understand rather than how well they read.

  9. The rejection letter seems pompous and everything you say it is. But more generally libraries prefer cash donations to book donations. The cost of entering a book into circulation is more than just the cost of the book. Plus accepting book donations rather than cash allows donors to advance specific agendas. Granted, in this case the idea that Dr. Seuss is an “agenda” seems overblown and it’s too bad the librarIan couldn’t have just accurately cited a general policy of not accepting book donations.

  10. This is interesting because there’s recently been a flap about racism in Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and I do not dispute that. I sensed that when I tried to read the book when it was first published (I was an adult) and couldn’t finish it for that reason.. I also sensed something rather peculiarly sadistic, which I found extremely off-putting in seemingly benign children’s literature for that age group. I say that despite the fact that fairy tales contain sadism and all kinds of unpleasant and cruel elements; but those are fairy tales. I don’t like what I read in Dahl.

    As for Dr. Seuss, I have mixed feelings. I do not see “The Cat in the Hat” as racist (and if it’s the hat being suggestive of minstrelsy, too thin a connection for me); however, Theodor Seuss Geisel most certainly did publish work that was undeniably racist — here’s a brief article about it and a photo gallery: In truth, had I known this before I was exposed to his children’s books, I probably would not have read them; but I didn’t know and I grew up on them, loved them, still love them, and would recommend them to any child of any race. Geisel later apologized. Who knows whether he was sincere or not. I hope so. Our gods have clay feet.

        1. Family Guy had a bit about that. The Coyote’s life was never the same once the chase ended. He went into a deep depression, etc

    1. What, exactly, did you find intolerably racist about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”?

      Are you aware that Dahl originally conceived of Charlie as black?

      1. I didn’t know that Charlie was originally conceived of as black until I read recent articles (and wasn’t surprised). I did sense that the white Oompa Loompas were stand-ins for pygmies (and they are), and that disturbed me. After reading your comment, I found this very interesting article in the NYT: Quoting from the NYT interview with Catherine Keyser, an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina who has written about “Charlie’s Chocolate Bo,:” “As far as this version goes, I think it is a really powerful racial allegory that might seem very surprising coming from Dahl. I think the mold in the shape of a chocolate boy is a metaphor for racial stereotype. In the early 20th century, chocolate marketing in both the U.S. and England was very tied up in imperialist fantasies and in connecting brown skin with brown chocolate. In one British ad for chocolate, for example, you had a black figure holding a cocoa bean and happily bestowing it on white children.”

        The original version does indeed seem to be “a really powerful racial allegory,” far more complex and intriguing than I’d imagined; but it would never have worked as mainstream children’s lit, even back then; certainly not now. Upon reflection, I just don’t like Roald Dahl’s stories, so I find ‘objective’ reasons to dislike them, when it’s my personal prejudice.

        Full disclosure: I have been accused of trading in racial stereotypes, and it’s a fair accusation; I do it consciously and deliberately, because I, like Dahl was in his original version, am probing them. So is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Oops Loops! that’s a racist statement, too.

        1. you had a black figure holding a cocoa bean and happily bestowing it on white children.

          Hardly a racist m4essage, more a reflection of the geographic areas the beans are sourced from, which includes West Africa.

        2. So is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Oops Loops! that’s a racist statement, too.

          Maybe you are not being entirely serious but that is definitely not a racist statement.

    2. Interesting you mention possible racist undertones in a Dahl book. While I’ve never read that one, and so cannot comment, many of his books had to be edited by his publisher to remove antisemitic, mysoginistic, and racist content. He was a raging antisemite, a racist, and a sexist. You can read many of the things he said over his lifetime here:

      Still, some of his books are lovely, and his personal bigotry shouldn’t preclude appreciation of his work (not that you suggested it should).

  11. An important factor not yet mentioned here is the Librarian doing censorship for everyone. This is censorship at it’s worst when we have librarians taking control to do this. Who died and gave this kind of authority to the librarian? I wonder, what do the librarians of America think of this first amendment judicial review.

        1. Actually that thing in 1776 was just a declaration. Other than those who signed it any other participation was voluntary. Besides, Great Britain had pretty much already declared War on us a year earlier. We were just trying to catch up.

  12. “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.’

    Bet she’d have accepted a stack of children’s bible versions.

    ” “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”

    Ummm perhaps she’s never heard of Joe E. Brown or vaudeville in general or is unaware that styles change. BTW, if the Cat is black when his mouth is open does he become white when he closes it?

  13. I wonder what the “pecksniffs” would think if they knew that not only did Geisel get into trouble at Dartmouth for brewing beer during Prohibition, but before he was a famous Children’s author, he designed beer ads for the Narragansett Brewery in Rhode Island, as well as the Schaefer Brewery in NY ???

  14. Wasn’t this past week “Banned Books Week” or something like that?

    Also, the “this seems to look like X therefore it is really about X” form of argumentation sure seems popular …

  15. This is the most outrageous piece of identity-politics policing since the Emmett Till painting fracas.

    The ONLY children’s classic that is deeply steeped in racism is “Dr. Doolittle” (which ironically was a movie starring Eddie Murphy 30 years after the Rex Harrison version.)

    Philip Nel, the (white) scholar who claims CitH is racist has been paraphrased as saying “The clues to the cat’s black lineage have been so effectively covered up that they have to be meticulously decoded to demonstrate how the story reflects subconscious white fear of black power.” and “Nel treats white denial of racism as a symptom of the problem.”
    ( )

    [[“Why do elephants paint their testicles red?”
    “To hide in cherry trees.”
    “Have you ever seen an elephant do that?”
    “See, it really really works.”]]

    This should be a red flag to any reader of a scientific bent. It’s pretty much the appeal
    He shifts the burden of proof as such

    “In case this is not obvious, White people – especially those afflicted with White fragility – should get over themselves,” Nel writes. “Remember that, in America, people of color face racism nearly every day. So, White people, if you think someone is overly sensitive about race or weighing race too heavily in her analysis, then ask yourself: how would I feel if I faced racism daily?””

    I’m still trying to figure out which the classic logical fallacies this is.

    Philip Nel, author of “Was the Cat in the Hat Black,” and an English professor at Kansas State University.

    1. AH HA!!!! NEWS FLASH

      According to H. Burdorff in Subversive Seuss, Dr. Seuss continued to champion progressive ideals in the sequel to The Cat in the Hat, titled The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, in which the Cat may represent colonial or absolute dictatorial power.

      The Cat tries to clean up a mess he made with a dress that was not his, but ends up making things worse. When the Cat realizes that he can’t do it all by himself, he brings in helpers, which Burdorff suggests may represent the working public, the underclass, or the democratic citizenry. When the Cat recognizes the potential of the working people, he sees the need for democracy.

    2. Meh. If propaganda is so subtle it has to be carefully evaluated to uncover its message, I’d say it’s pretty much failed as propaganda.

      But if you try hard enough you can read meanings into anything.

      Btw, my version of red-testicled elephants is Killer Rabbits, whose attack is always fatal. Have you ever heard of anyone who was attacked by a rabbit and survived to talk about it? No? That just proves how deadly they are…


  16. There is a much bigger issue here regarding libraries and librarians than one librarian turning down a donation. All public libraries do not have unlimited resources. They cannot purchase every book published. Most libraries spend part of their budgets on non-books, such as videos (a practice I do not like) or eBooks (which you may or may not define as a book). Under these constraints, how do librarians decide what to purchase? I do not know what the criteria is, but I am confident that somebody would be unhappy with it. People will always kvetch, and I think the job description of a librarian with purchasing power should contain this: must be able to withstand abuse by those hurling accusations that the librarian is a liberal or conservative tool or worse.

    1. “…must be able to withstand abuse by those hurling accusations that the librarian is a liberal or conservative tool or worse.”

      This librarian has removed all doubt.

    2. What little I know about it is confined to the library in the town I was from. Public library, with a library board. The Board actually hires the librarian so would have certain controls over this person. It is also very true that the budget is very limited and the books they buy are limited. I think the Board is a voluntary thing in the small town and although they have some power over the librarian, they get no money or salary.

  17. Jeez, first Melania gets pinched for plagiarizing Michelle’s speech at last year’s RNC. Now, the poor gal can’t even ape Michelle’s Dr. Seuss jones?

    That’s a hard nut.

  18. I am in large part in agreement that Ms. Soreiro’s reaction to an well-intended gesture is unfortunate.

    I’d personally be less harsh toward Ms. Soreiro though.

    Consider the context: We have a racist President who is running a racist administration. This is frankly not a debatable point.

    But does that mean that Melania is racist? Yeah, it kinda does. I mean I suppose it’s possible to be married to a racist without being one yourself but you’d have to be at least under-concerned with the problem of racism. It’s worse than that, though. Melania here is acting as First Lady which means she is representing not just herself or even her husband, but the White House which regularly acts out of ignorance and bigotry.

    I imagine it was very difficult for Ms. Soreiro to accept any gift under the circumstances. I know it would be for me. I also imagine the impulse to respond as she did was very strong.

    And Dr. Seuss at times certainly portrayed minorities as grotesque caricatures. Some of his political cartoons are much more blatant about it than in his children’s books (which do have their moments). We shouldn’t dismiss this because we like Dr. Seuss and the The Cat in the Hat didn’t seem offensive to Michelle Obama.

    The race issue in The Cat in the Hat is probably not especially relevant when we’re trying to teach kids to read. But I don’t think it’s wrong to consider Seuss’s influences and possible insensitivity (as well as his readers’) if we’re examining the book in an historical context.

    1. Do you suppose that the librarian would have done the same thing had Michelle Obama sent such a book to the library? (After all, she READ IT TO KIDS!). Would it have been appropriate to consider Seuss’s insensitivity then? If not, why not? It can’t be simply who’s reading the book, after all!

    2. “The race issue in The Cat in the Hat is….”

      Wait. Why are you accepting the claim that there even IS a “race issue” with Cat in the Hat? Have you read any of Nel’s writing on it? You should. It’s pure drek.

    3. I’d personally be less harsh toward Ms. Soreiro though.

      Even though, just two years ago, she was dressing up as th Cat in the Hat and therefore, by her logic, wearing minstrel costume?

      See the tweet below.

  19. Now don’t get me wrong: Soeiro’s list of alternatives is fine, though narrow, and kids should read them.

    More than just ‘narrow’, it’s representative of a hyper-selective initiative to promote SJW ideology by presenting only ‘intersectional’ books.

    This self-appointed political kommisar openly uses her public librarian position to indoctrinate children and turn them into little social justice agitators:

    Field Notes: Loud in the Library: Creating Social Activists at School

    One way I have been able to engage students is by piquing their sense of justice through read-alouds, current events, and small-group discussions about books such as Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and Kathleen Krull and Yuyi Morales’s Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. Kids react to injustice because of their strong sense of what is fair, so many of the projects I do with students have a social justice aspect to them. What I find is that children become engaged and passionate when trying to remedy a situation they feel is unfair. I have some favorite picture books that I read aloud to spark conversation and reflection. These books allow us not just to look at an injustice singularly but also examine the greater social context that created it.

    This has led to some validating civic experiences for my students; they have led the charge to effect tangible change. After first-grade students read about the environmentalist Green Belt Movement and its founder Wangari Maathai (Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson and Sonia Lynn Sadler), they met with a city councilor to talk about how their neighborhoods could be beautified to benefit not just the residents but also the Earth.

    Fifth graders were dismayed when they learned the truth about Christopher Columbus and what his “discovery” meant for the indigenous people of Hispaniola and beyond. Our city’s vice mayor came into library class to educate them on how to build on their outrage: how to organize and grow a movement to achieve the change they’re looking for. And while these fifth graders have not (yet) been successful in changing the name of the holiday from “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in Cambridge, they learned a valuable lesson about committing yourself to and organizing others for a cause in which you believe.

    After another group of fifth graders read excerpts from Discovering Black America: From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-First Century by Linda Tarrant-Reid, we invited one of the founders of our city’s Black Lives Matter chapter to come into the library to answer questions, teach us what an ally can be, and empower our students to be proud of who they are. The children wrote poetry, came up with rallying cries, learned to support each other, and made plans about how they could speak to younger students about the racism and prejudice that continue to plague our city and the world.

    Following Kommissar Soeiro’s links, we find “Katie Ishizuka’s work analyzing the minstrel characteristics and trope nature of Seuss’s characters.”

    Ishizuka, who holds a Master’s degree in social work, conducted a critical race analysis of 50 children’s books by Seuss and found that 98 percent of the human characters were white, and only two percent were people of color.

    She points out that the Cat in the Hat, perhaps Seuss’ most famous character, is based on minstrel stereotypes. “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.

    [My bolding.]

    But, of course, the beauty of Critical Theory is that when you apply it, anything can mean anything at all, with your interpretations immaculately unfalsifiable.

    We also find that Ishizuka’s husband, Ramon Stephens, is founder of The Conscious Kid,

    an education, research, policy and social justice organization dedicated to reducing bias and promoting positive identity development in youth. We do this through promoting access to children’s books that center empowering images and narratives of historically marginalized, underrepresented and oppressed groups.

    Its mission statement includes ”Promote access to diverse children’s books that sustain culture, reduce implicit bias and empower youth”, with ’diversity’ as usual meaning anything not cishetwhite. Their monthly reading list:

    January: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Book List
    February: 28 Black History Books by Black Authors
    March: Womxn’s History Reading List on Powerful & Empowering Womxn who Changed the World
    April: Earth Day Reading List
    May: Ramadan Reading List
    June: Celebrating Black Fathers
    July: Books Featuring Black Males by Black Authors for 10 and 11 Year Olds
    July: Caribbean Heritage Reading List
    August: NYC Culture Reading List
    September/October: Latinx Heritage Reading List

        1. Ha ha! Nice.

          First it was “womyn,” now “womxn” — some crypto-pseudo-genetic political correctness must be at work. Soon they’ll take the “men” out of menstruation.

  20. I cannot say that I share in the admiration of Mr. Geisel. In 1984, I was working in the video game industry, and I was assigned to lead a project to design an educational game based on The Cat in the Hat. He proved to be a total pain in the ass to try to work with. He had no idea how to interact with people as a collaborator, nor did he know how to give advice or instructions about the project. He typically responded to being presented with artwork or animation samples with remarks like, “It’s not ridiculous enough. Give it more ridiculosity.” The project eventually was canceled due to the difficulties in communications between Mr. Geisel and my production staff.

    I attribute this to the probability that he was used to being a one-man production team; he wrote the text and drew the illustrations and had no need to give or follow instructions. I often wonder how he was able to work with the Warner Brothers studios on the Private Snafu WWII shorts or with Chuck Jones on the Grinch cartoon special. Of course when he was involved with those projects, he was a much younger man. Maybe he was just getting crotchety by the time I had to work with him.

    1. So you don’t admire him simply because he was bad with people and wasn’t able to successfully collaborate with you team? I mean, you didn’t even say he was particularly nasty. Just a “pain in the ass” who didn’t really understand how to help the process of making a videogame.

          1. At his level of participation, working on a video game was no different than working on an animated cartoon, which he had done all throughout WWII. He refused to provide sample sketches and berated us when we couldn’t follow his vague directions. I’m sure you don’t know anything about designing video games either. That’s what I was supposed to do – manage the team to meet his requirements – but he couldn’t be more than unworkably vague about what he wanted to see. But, then, I should know better than sharing information like this with the other commenters here.

  21. The Massachusetts elementary school librarian who rejected Dr. Seuss books donated by First Lady Melania Trump because the publication’s artwork contained “racist mockery,” was previously photographed dressed as the Cat in the Hat and holding a “Green Eggs and Ham” themed breakfast.

    Liz Phipps Soeiro was busted Friday by Twitter users after she snubbed the First Lady’s donation to the Cambridgeport Elementary School. Soeiro wrote in a letter to Trump that the school could not accept the books, which included: “The Cat in the Hat,” “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and “Green Eggs and Ham.”

  22. A short review of the ALA, American Library Association, it would appear that they would not approve of this action by the librarian. They believe in Intellectual Freedom, the Freedom to Read. They have a Bill of Rights that challenges Censorship. Also a Code of Ethics.

    1. From the code of ethics, article VII; “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”


      1. My guess, this school librarian is pretty far over her head. And writing letters to the pres. even Trump is a bit nuts. Even if she is not a member of the ALA, they would probably have something to say.

  23. “Hi, I’m liz, with a masters degree
    and I’ll decide what books you’ll see
    heather has two mommies, will do just fine
    but Dr Seuss, that crosses the line
    in fact, I think I’ve had enough, those nazi’s really knew their stuff
    just burn the ones that you don’t like, kaepernick can take a knee
    But Dr Seuss, you take a hike
    so go to hell Green eggs and ham
    Thanks so much, liz I am”

    by njfilm on Liz Phipps Soeiro, Wash Post comments.

  24. My parents’ local public library – in particular the children’s section on the first floor – was destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Harvey. Perhaps they would like to have the books that the Cambridge librarian rejected.

  25. Can’t we assume that, if a highly intelligent black woman failed to notice the racism in The Cat in the Hat when she read it out loud to a school class, then the racism probably isn’t there?

    1. I’d agree the racism probably isn’t there (or is buried so deep it takes a SJW to find it).

      I do think, if Michelle Obama had noticed racism half-way through, she has sufficient intelligence and poise to realise that that was not the time or place to make an issue of it – and continue reading.


  26. That was a nice letter from Melania, and I’m sure well-intentioned. I’ve just read the text of ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go’ and I can’t spot any obvious racism there. It’s a paean to aspiration and ambition.

    (SJW’s will no doubt point out that on average white kids have better prospects of attaining their ambitions than black ones. So freaking what? – ya gonna tell the black kids “look, it’s more difficult for you, so don’t even bother trying”? Really?)


  27. “about the President’s reprehensible stand on immigration.”….Oh like President Trump being against people braking the law and entering US illegally? Yeah so so reprehensible. A president in favor of upholding the law?! Just awful. MAGA!

  28. Does this mean that Walt Disney and his counterparts or should I say cartoonist also considered racist? Where does one draw the line?

  29. Her first comment was correct. Give books to schools which need them, not to well-off schools who don’t. Enough said.

  30. What a rude and pompous letter sent to Mrs. Trump. I am NOT a Trump supporter but the First Lady was treated quite shabbily by this arrogant Librarian. My Liberal children, now parents themselves, enjoyed Dr.Seuss and read them to their own children. One grand daughter has saved all of her childhood books for when she too is a mother!

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