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Not so simple gifts

Jeez, we didn’t get into any trouble at all the last time we criticized a First Lady, but clearly times have changed. I wanted to state that I am very proud that the Horn Book published Liz Phipps Soeiro’s  open letter to Melania Trump. It was polite, constructive, informative, and well-reasoned. Not so for all the comments that have been piling on; I’ve had enough of those and so have turned the comments off. I’ll do the same here if I have to*.

This is not to say that I don’t think there were plenty of polite, constructive, informative, and well-reasoned comments from both supporters and detractors of the letter. Family Reading Blog editor Kitty Flynn has already offered an eloquent defense of the piece; I only want to add two things about the First Lady’s gift and Liz’s response. Those commenters who said that Barack Obama had praised Dr. Seuss are missing the point. Dr. Seuss has been used by politicians (not to mention graduation speakers) of all stripes because his books are generally peppy, popular, and can speak to pretty much any message you’re trying to convey. This is evidence of their banality more than anything else. Mrs. Trump’s choice of them, and them exclusively, is unprofessional, and I’m using that word literally, not pejoratively. I wish she had talked to a librarian first.

But, and bringing me to my second point, one would hope that any librarian she consulted would tell her that the libraries upon which she would bestow her gifts probably had most if not all of the titles in multiple copies already. I mean, I hate The Cat in the Hat for obscure childhood reasons of my own but that book is freaking everywhere, including every library serving children under the age of eight. And the last thing most libraries need are random book donations. I remember when the then-commissioner of the Chicago Public Library (not a librarian himself) was just thrilled to pieces with a gift from the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette of a very fancily bound, completely inappropriate for circulation, gift edition of Baha’i teachings, one copy for every branch. The commissioner was completely abashed when we librarians told him that we would select our own books, thanks but no thanks. All libraries have policies for accepting gifts, and mainly those policies are in place to prevent your old National Geographics and drool-glazed baby books from getting anywhere near their shelves.

Libraries do not need donations of books, whether from you, Mrs. Trump, or Mrs. Obama. You know what libraries need? Money. Give them money.


*And I’ve had to. Despite one of the commenters saying that we only published comments that supported our position, a glance below will reveal that this is simply not true. But between the invective and the repetitiveness of what’s been coming in, I’m not seeing anything that adds to the dialogue and I’m tired of moderating. But for the love of Pete, all of you: learn to spell “Seuss.”

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Jen Mason Stott says:

    The last two sentences, on a billboard. Yes. Exactly. Give libraries a budget and allow the professionals to do our job (trust me, Congressional Budget Office, librarians are not padding our salaries or taking military jets to our honeymoons, ahem).

    The photo = icing on the cake. A friend recently started a sentence, “The library is around the block, and we have a complete set of National Geo–” and almost cried, so quick and emphatic was my NO.

  2. thanksRoger says:

    Libraries dont need book donations! I will forward that to every future student of mine!

    Thanks Roger!

  3. Dear Roger,
    I am sorry, but you are wrong.
    The local public library does need, and loves to receive book donations. We don’t care what kind of worn-out, out-dated, old-fashioned items we receive. Dr. Seuss sells like crazy.
    When our patrons donate books to us, we always say, “Thank you! We will look at your books and if we cannot add them to our collection, we will add them to the semi-annual book sale run by our fantastic Friends of the Library group. The money they raise supports our programming.”
    Quite often, the local population may not have money to support the library, but donated books do the trick too, and we value these donations highly.

  4. Lori Collins says:

    Sorry, but Liz Phipps Soeiro comments in her blog about Dr. Seuss being “cliche” were not well informed. Perhaps she is not well educated in her own field. Linguistics experts recommend reading Dr. Seuss to children from the time they are infant. I would refer your readers to The Neurobiology of Dr. Seuss as published in Psychology Today, as but one of many sources as the number of linguistic experts and child psychologists who recommend Dr. Seuss is extremely long. One is entitled to their own political leanings, but not their own facts.

  5. I love you Roger Sutton!

  6. Leslie Slavens says:

    While I am not a supporter of Trump or Devos, I was very offended by the comments and suggestions that Dr.Suess’ books were cliche, out of style and worse, racist! These are fabrications by paranoid people looking for something that isn’t there! The stories themselves should tell you who Ted Geisel was. He championed environmentalism, compassion, seeing past your own nose to Thor different from you, to the damage of materialism, bitterness, hatred. There is nothing about his characters that are like black people! His characters, all of them which are not humans, but Who’s! They do not represent humans…black or white! They are fictional and animalistic.
    Clearly those who raise these unfounded accusations never knew the man or took the time to read his words. They will NEVER be cliche or dated! They are CLASSICS!

  7. Liz had a choice – she could have simply accepted the gift and then sent it along to a library that needs them, or politicize what most would consider a nice gesture. She chose to politicize it, and she comes off poorly. Now she has given the alt-right a gift of their own: an opportunity to characterize liberals as crazy.

    As for your last statement, that libraries can better deploy money than books – it is a fine statement. However, remember the context of the donation: National Read a Book Day. The goal is to get people to read books, and a donation of tangible books sends a message that says, “Here are some books that I like, and I think you might like them too”. A donation of money sends a message, “Books cost money, so spend this money on some books.” The first message is positive and actionable. The second message is abstract and neutral at best to the would-be reader, who may be reminded of how little money they have to spend.

    Finally, I’d encourage you to think creatively about what you could do with book donations. You must agree that the idea of donating books is at least germane to the purpose the library serves, right?

  8. Being a Mom and now a Grandmother, like Mrs. Trump I’ve read the Dr. Seuss books over and over again. But there is no professional degree that goes along with being a Mother, Grandmother nor a First Lady I suspect. Roger stated “Mrs. Trump’s choice of them, and them exclusively, is unprofessional, and I’m using that word literally, not pejoratively. I wish she had talked to a librarian first.” Mrs. Trump stated in her letter the book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” was one she and her son had read over and over again. One they wanted to share. Maybe it wasn’t professional perhaps it was a heartfelt gesture of a gift that brought her many wonderful memories.

  9. Speaking my mind says:

    There is a reason you had to “shut off the comments.” Give it some thought. There’s absolutely no way to justify what happened here. You published a letter that displayed arrogance of the highest level, and it was addressed to a woman who is a minority in our country. You need to apologize in an open letter.

  10. Apparently Ms. Soeiro thinks her job is “creating social activists”. I’d recommend sticking to helping children learn to read.

    A google search reveals An article about creating community connections by ‘opening our doors’. Unless of course you’re not a liberal. If you are not liberal be prepared to be publicly embarrassed and riduculed.

    I think Ms. Soeiro’s behavior was shameful. A perfect example of why you do not simply provide a budget and let so called professionals do their job. Too many professionals in education have agendas that do not match the parent’s goals for their child’s education.

  11. Chris Ellison says:

    After reading both the above diatribe and Ms. Phipps Soeiro’s screed, I am once again convinced that the arrogance and self-righteousness that plagues humankind remains a flaw we should expect to continue to confront in our daily lives. I suppose Dr. Seuss’ simple message in, “The Zax,” was not one Mr. Sutton or Ms. Phipps Soeiro took to heart. Ah, hubris!

  12. Yes! This is the thing that is so strange to me about all of these “BUT IT’S A GIFT” comments: libraries have collection development policies, and it is LITERALLY the job of the librarian to make collection development decisions. Soeiro is completely within her purview, according to the book donation policy that is on the Cambridgeport School’s website (

  13. Sean Murphy says:

    Yup, Roger, the taxpayers should just shut up and fork over money so that “the professionals”, such as Ms. Soeiro, can decide which books children should read and which they shouldn’t. And the criteria for selection? Well, we all know the answer to that one, don’t we? As I’m sure Ms. Soeiro would agree, we don’t need no stinking’ Doctor Seuss when we have White Supremacy to dismantle and Socialism to promote! Sorry, books are too important to leave just to the librarians.

  14. Roger,
    What Ms. Soeiro did illustrates a key failing of our current society. In the years since you and I were in college, we have seen the death of civility creep into who we are as a nation. Rudeness to the “wrong” kind of person is now lauded as a virtue. We euphemistically call it “activism” when it is really a virulent strain of selfishness. “My opinions! My desires! Everyone who sees the world differently be damned!”
    Gently rejecting an offer person-to-person is one thing; demeaning someone in a public way is another. If we really believe in diversity, then we value everyone and treat everyone with the same level of respect (even those to whom we feel morally superior).

  15. Why are you only posting comments that favor your Opinion? You are not inclusive. The indecisiveness you have is for people that agree with you.

  16. Despicable.
    What I don’t like more then the trumps are people who are so callus and rude as to not accept a gift with grace.
    Shall we move on to the book themselves?
    “Oh the places you will go” is a classic.
    I give a copy as COLLEGE graduate gifts.
    Please don’t hide the fact you have some deep seated adgenda in mind when you refuse books like these from an author like that.
    You, madam, are despicable, short sighted, dangerous, and disgusting.
    If not as a person, then a “librarian”.

  17. Laurie Fatica-Tice says:

    How much input does a First Lady have in these situations? Obviously she knows about the program but is she the one who chooses the recipients and book choices? I would want to know that before making any statement or assumptions.

  18. Unfortunately, social justice warriors like Liz Phipps Soeiro are more interested in pushing their own political agenda than being good stewards of those put in their charge (students). Her outlandish claims that Dr. Suess books are racist is the most ludicrous thing I have heard. Michelle Obama read Dr. Suess books to children, complete with Dr. Suess mascots and I haven’t seen or heard Ms. Soeiro’s complaint that Michelle Obama was pushing racist Dr. Suess books. It’s clear that Ms. Soeiro is a die hard liberal and will oppose something as simple and benign as a gift of books from the first lady based on nothing other than her unabashed hatred of anything non-liberal. So the students suffer for her political statement. Very tolerant indeed.

  19. Come on Roger. Had Michelle Obama gifted an engraved copy of The Cat in the Hat it would be displayed in a glass case with a framed photo of her next to it, and you know it. I’m not a fan of this president either but let’s not try and pretend that this is some issue of collection development. The first lady chose these books because she and her son enjoyed them, not because she views them as an examples of the world’s finest literature for children. The gift was ceremonial in nature, in recognition of the school’s achievements, not intended as a means of stocking the library or meeting its needs. It’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

    The open letter was intended to shame and embarrass Melania Trump, nothing more nor less. Yes, our president could definitely use some lessons in manners, and the rest of us could also try leading by example. Common courtesy goes a long way in elevating the dialogue.

  20. Fiona Fenstermaker says:

    As a fellow school librarian with an MLIS, MAT, and MBA degree, I’m afraid that this librarian’s actions demonstrate censorship. She is preventing books from being available to her students. This is exactly what librarians are supposed to guard against. The First Amendment.

    This is not a racist issue. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Trump’s policies is irrelevant.

    Didn’t your mommy ever teach you to accept gifts gracefully, even if it’s not something you like or want?

  21. Laurie J Lenten says:

    I worked in an elementary school library for five years under the guidance of an extremely knowledgeable Library Media Specialist. Books were often gifted to our library by well-meaning parents, grandparents, and community members. I never saw our LMS reject a donation. She was always gracious and appreciative. Now did all those donations end up on our shelves? Absolutely not. Most were given to our students as books they could take home and keep. The children loved getting a “free” book. In the case of Liz Phipps Soeiro’s letter to the First Lady, all I can say is, wow, how rude, condescending, and unappreciative can you get. This woman doesn’t want to brag about her educational credentials because without manners she is nothing. I would suggest Soeiro might want to collaborate with her LMS peers around the country because if Dr.Seuss is “a worn cliche” and racist literature, then obviously hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of librarians nationwide failed to get the memo… not to mention President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, who both highly praised, read and promoted Dr. Seuss to racially diverse audiences of children. No, I think we’re all smart enough here to know Ms. Soeiro’s real motives here and they have nothing to do with Dr. Seuss being put into the hands of children.

  22. Margaret Willis says:

    One has to wonder , perhaps the library could use a book on etiquette. When someone’s receives a gift it should be accepted with grace and a thank you period . If one does not like or appreciate the gift , you still receive it graciously and can later dispose of it with out the knowledge of the giver . One is not required to keep the gift forever , but rather to appreciate the time and thought the person put into the gift and accept it graciously . The berate or belittle the gift is very tacky . If the lady who wrote the offensive “ thank you “ is considered “ a professional “ then I don’t think she has any business selecting any books for any children . Sad to see the people supporting the offensive letter , Dr. Seuss books usually teach personal responsibility and kindness … the librarians letter seems to show that is her real problem not the PC catch phrases that she spouts .

  23. Might I suggest the author, along with Ms. Phipps Soeiro, read the Dr. Seuss classic, “The Zax.” Based on the information given by both diatribes, I suspect the short story is readily accessible to both. It seems to me that both authors, along with President Trump, did not learn the important lesson about what pride does to people, both in the short term and in the long term. Hubris is a common flaw in our world and Dr. Seuss seemed wise enough to try to teach us not to succumb to it.

  24. Tess in the Classroom says:

    With all due respect, Roger, a package sent from the White House to a single high-achieving school in a statel, containing 10 books and a letter to the school’s students, is not “a random book donation.” Were it my library, those books and that letter would go in a glass case to be preserved for future generations to see and admire. All my students would write thank you letters to FLOTUS, which could well result in an invitation to the White House some day. The whole thing would turn into an active learning experience for the children, instead of an international scandal in adult ingratitude, virtue signaling, and disingenuous moralizing.

    I also want to point out that this may be the very first time that an leftist SJW has been the subject of the revolting, obscenity-laced, ill-informed social media dogpile, instead of being the piler-on. Sucks, doesn’t it? Maybe tone-policing isn’t such a bad idea, nor is manners policing.