Dear Liz the Librarian
I was interested to hear your story of unrequited love at Cambridgeport Elementary School. To commemorate National Read a Book Day, First Lady Melania Trump sent one school in every state a parcel of ten books by Dr. Seuss, along with a letter she penned in which she detailed reading “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” with her now 11 year old son Barron. Easy peasy, a simple gift.
You’re quite a librarian, named Hero of Family Outreach in 2017 by the School Library Journal. Clearly, you have made a name for yourself and inspire the love of reading in your school, a stone’s throw from Harvard and where per child spending is $20,000 annually. Though Cambridge Public School District Is generally wealthy, your school serves quite a diverse group of pupils, both in race and economics.
When a package arrived from the The White House, you examined its contents and said no thank you. Though it was meant for the school and the children, you singularly turned it down and with quite an extensive explanation. I, too, am a writer and value expressing heartfelt truths, but your post on The Horn Book Family Reading blog left much to be desired. You said thanks, but no thanks.
You explained that that your school had no use for the books and called Mrs. Trump’s choice of Dr. Seuss a “bit of a cliche, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature.”
I quite adore books, but you know what I crave even more? Good manners, gratitude and kindness. I am a mother who spends an inordinate amount of time coaching her children on proper etiquette, ie., you didn’t want a monogrammed robe from your Godmother? Fine, but you will be appreciative and express your thanks with not an ounce of negativity. A fairly simple concept.
Instead, you wrote a letter back to Mrs. Trump informing her that “we will not be keeping the titles for our collection.”
You cited that Dr. Seuss was a racist and truthfully, he did express regret about some of his racist cartoons, especially those depicting Japanese people during World War II. I think there’s value in the acknowledgment of mistakes and our own country refused to shelter Jewish people seeking shelter. You yourself dressed up as Dr. Seuss in honor of his birthday two years ago. Hmmmm.
You go on to say that while your school doesn’t have a NEED for the books, there are many schools that do. You chastise Mrs. Trump with the questioning admonishment, “Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities?”
I seriously doubt that anyone believes you actually needed the books, but again, gifts are sometimes tokens of appreciation, not based on need. Of course your points are accurate, clearly your school laden with more than 9,000 volumes couldn’t possibly NEED the books, but again, the purpose of a thank you note is to be thankful.
What you’ve done is taken advantage of an opportunity to be heard to spark a political debate and shaming.
It was not enough to poo poo the choice of books, but you went on to chide the gift giver to choose wisely next time and suggested that Dr. Carla Hayden, the current children’s librarian at The Library of Congress, was surely available for assistance. While you were thankful for the “wonderful gesture, it was one that could have been better thought out.” No, Liz, just no.
Your school has distanced itself from your mission statement, stating, “The employee was not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district.” However, several families at your school have offered their support. Eric Munson stated that he supports your decision to write the letter and another parent, Alex Vanpraagh, stated that he thought your letter was “really articulate, constructive in its suggestions.” Does this concern anyone but me?
Should we ever justify writing a thank you note that is really a backhanded, not so passive aggressive, slap in the face?
You wrote, “My students have access to a librarian with a graduate degree in library science.”
Well, my own four children do not. They go to school in rural Eastern NC and the majority of our students live in poverty.
We would have loved those books and though Edenton-Chowan Schools have far fewer resources than your district, our school values kindness and proper etiquette. Pardon my candor, but next time you receive a gift of books, write a simple thank you note and then quietly send the allotment to my children’s school.
White Oak Elementary School
111 Sandy Ridge Road
Edenton, NC 27932
We’re not picky. After all, sixty percent of our children have fewer than ten books to call their very own.
Adrian H. Wood, PhD
Writer & Mother