The first lady is having another tough week, publicity-wise. Melania Trump responded to the librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro after she rejected her donation of Dr. Seuss books to an elementary school library. The latest controversy marks the second debacle in the first lady's efforts to help children that has gone awry.
In an open-letter-style blog post dated Sept. 26, the Massachusetts school's librarian thanks Mrs. Trump for the "ten Dr. Seuss titles" but explains why she will not accept them, saying,
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.
She then cites multiple sources who have documented stereotypes in the works of the children's author. In a mic-drop finish, Phipps Soeiros ends her letter with an attachment of an alternative reading list of children's books for the first lady.
It's pretty clear from the first lady's letter to the students, which she sent with the books, that the gift wasn't intended as any offense. She writes,
I wanted to send you a special gift. Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go! is a book my son and I have read over and over again, and one that we want to share with all of you.
But intentions aside, the librarian is right in pointing out Seuss' flaws. Before Theodore Seuss Geisel started his career in children's books, he drew political ads that portrayed Africans, Arabs, and Asians with a heavy hand, so to speak. Business Insider has reported how his depictions are unavoidably racist and stereotypical, while The Atlantic explains how Geisel's political cartoons have many sides to them, making them ripe for controversy.
Rather than back down or release an apology explaining that she hadn't mean to cause offense (or any of the other possible responses she could've made), Trump's team came back with its own criticism of the librarian's response.
Communications director for the first lady Stephanie Grisham told Fox News that Trump's platform was intended "to help as many children as she can," adding in response to Phipps Soeiro's statement,
[Melania Trump] has demonstrated this in both actions and words since her husband took office, and sending books to children across the country is but one example. To turn the gesture of sending young students some books into something divisive is unfortunate, but the First Lady remains committed to her efforts on behalf of children everywhere.
Fox News points out that former First Lady Michelle Obama read Dr. Seuss books to children while she was in office without any backlash -- at least, none that we know of or have heard about publicly. These numerous writings about this topic suggest Dr. Seuss is indeed the subject of controversy in the literary community. By publishing a public post explaining her rationale, Phipps Soeiros may well have voiced an opinion that other librarians and children's educators hold but seldom speak to. But whether the librarian's criticism is specific to Trump is up for hard to tell.
On Twitter, many have taken Trump's side and expressed that to reject books was going a little far, if not hypocritical of the librarian.
It didn't help things that the internet dug up a photo of who appears to be the same librarian wearing a Cat in the Hat outfit.
Justified or not, the controversial rejection of Trump's donation marks something of a streak, leaving the first lady 0-2 in her attempts to help children that didn't go over well, after her U.N. speech about bullying prompted calls of hypocrisy.
Despite these bumps in the road, though, Trump's popularity has soared in the months since taking office. The first lady is now the most liked in the Trump family by Americans, though her favorability rating overall compared to other first ladies is, well, nothing to celebrate over. This week's debacle with Dr. Seuss books certainly didn't help.