1st Model Melania drumpf, in a gracious, if not well thought out gesture, donated ten titles by Dr. Seuss to one school in each state that had been recognized by the Department of Education for excellence. Perhaps she did not stop to think that that excellence might be attributed to above average resources and educators like Liz Phipps Soeiro.
Ms. Soeiro replied to the 1st Model in an open letter published to The Horn Book Family Reading Blog, thanking her for her thoughtfulness while questioning her thought process:
“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 Hat; I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; The Foot Book; Wacky Wednesday; Green 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.”
Librarian-splaining that her district in Cambridge, Massachusetts was exceptionally well funded and her students had not only herself but a well equipped Library of 9,000 of Children and YA books, and that her gift might better serve “underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos...” Liz offered a suggestion:
“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.”
And Liz also offered ten more suggestion for more appropriate titles:
Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic written by Ginnie Lo; illus. by Beth Lo (Lee & Low, 2012).
Author and illustrator (sisters) retell how their aunt, a Chinese immigrant to the Midwest, created a family tradition. On a family outing in the 1950s, Auntie Yang discovers a field of soybeans–and a way to overcome homesickness for China while sharing a very special food. The heartfelt story is accompanied by enamel on porcelain art carefully drawn with colored glazes.
The Boy & the Bindi written by Vivek Shraya; illus. by Rajni Perera (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016). [Not reviewed by the Horn Book.]
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music written by Margarita Engle; illus. by Rafael López (Houghton, 2015).
A young girl “on an island of music” dreams of becoming a drummer, but only boys play drums. The story is based on Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a “Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers.” Poetic text takes its cues from Zaldarriaga’s chosen instrument. Saturated acrylic-on-wood illustrations capture the island’s musicality and the surreal dream-images that inspire young Millo.
King for a Day written by Rukhsana Khan; illus. by Christiane Krömer (Lee & Low, 2014).
Action-filled collages of traditional fabrics, textured paper, yarn, and more display intricate sky- and cityscapes of Lahore, Pakistan, during Basant, the spring kite festival. Malik, skillfully using his handmade small kite to conquer the bully next door in the kite battle, is a real hero; that he uses a wheelchair is incidental to the story. Useful contextual information is appended.
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation written by Edwidge Danticat; illus. by Leslie Staub (Dial, 2015).
In this gentle story, Haitian American Saya’s mother is incarcerated because she has no papers. Danticat’s direct, resonant prose doesn’t shy away from the realities–telling of the loneliness of missing your mother and the trauma of saying goodbye at the detention facility. Staub’s naive-style oil paintings keep the focus on the child; the larger issue of the plight of refugees and immigrants makes the story universal.
My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood written by Tameka Fryer Brown; illus. by Shane Evans (Penguin Random House, 2013).
Jamie expresses his shifting emotions in a rainbow of colors. His cool purple “Grape-juice drinking…Bobbing to the beat kind of mood” shifts to a “Gloomy gray kind of place” when his brothers are mean, and so on. The stuttering free verse can be difficult to follow; Evans’s hue-specific digital-collage illustrations provide most of this conceptually smart book’s expression.
Red: A Crayon’s Story written and illus. by Michael Hall (Greenwillow, 2015).
Crayon Red is labeled red, but he colors blue, which creates frustration for the other crayons and thus Red himself. Red struggles until new friend Berry asks him to make a blue ocean. Once he lets go of his label, everything turns around, including the other crayons’ minds. Smart design and sharp details keep the story effective and amusing.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation written and illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh (Scholastic, 2014).
In 1947 the Mendez family fought for–and won–the desegregation of schools in California. Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author’s note with photos is appended. Bib., glos., ind.
Somos Como Las Nubes / We Are like the Clouds written by Jorge Argueta; illus. by Alfonso Ruano; translated by Elisa Amado (Groundwood, 2016).
Argueta’s bilingual collection gives voice to refugee children who emigrate from Central American countries to the United States in search of safety or better lives. The poems, written in the first person, present the candid perspective of the children’s experiences; they include whimsical imagery but also scary threats. Delicate illustrations present both realistic portrayals and surreal depictions that complement the textual imagery.
Two White Rabbits written by Jairo Buitrago; illus. by Rafael Yockteng; translated by Elisa Amado (Groundwood, 2015).
A girl and her father travel by foot, by raft, and by train. As they travel, the girl counts the things she sees: “I count the people who live by the train tracks.” Originally published in Spanish, this quiet picture book highlights the experience of a child refugee or immigrant; Yockteng’s contemplative graphic illustrations clearly depict the pain, frustration, and boredom of the journey.
Hopefully, young Barron has advanced to Mark Twain and Jack London by now, but these titles, if not too taxing, would certainly fill some holes in the resident’s education.
Well done Liz.