Librarian who rejected gift from Melania Trump: Give books to kids who need it.

First lady Melania Trump called on Dr. Seuss to help her celebrate National Read a Book Day on Sept. 6.

Then things got ... complicated.

Melania Trump reads a book to kids during the Easter Egg Roll at the White House in April 2017. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.


As the White House had previously announced, a school in each state that had "achieved high standards of excellence" would be receiving a box of 10 books by Dr. Seuss. Achieving "excellence" is a vague benchmark, of course — and one the White House doesn't define in detail in its press release — but it seemed as though performing well on standardized testing was a key benchmark.

In Massachusetts, that school selected to receive the donated books was Cambridgeport Elementary. The school librarian there, however, wasn't exactly happy about it.

In a blistering open letter to the first lady published on family reading blog The Horn Book, librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro laid out why she won't be keeping the books.

Although she said was "honored" by the gift and thanked Trump for the gesture, Soeiro pointed out why students in Cambridge — home to Harvard University, and a community with significant resources to offer its schools — certainly shouldn't be the ones accepting donated books from Washington when there are many other schools that need the help.

"My students have access to a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science," she wrote. "Meanwhile, school libraries around the country are being shuttered."

Detroit teachers protest in May 2016 after significant budget shortfalls cause large setbacks for the district. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.

Soeiro noted the Trump administration has exacerbated education inequality by appointing Betsy DeVos — whose policies tend to favor students in wealthier or privileged areas, like Cambridge, over those in impoverished rural and urban districts — to run its education department.

"Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos?" she wrote.

Education secretary Betsy DeVos. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

As you can imagine, Soeiro has faced both support and backlash for the letter.

The first lady responded to Soeiro in a statement from her communications team, suggesting the librarian needlessly made the gift political: "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."

Many online agreed:

In her letter criticizing Trump, Soeiro also called Dr. Seuss a "bit of a cliché" and noted his work's well-documented racist undertones — points conservative media seized and panned harshly.

But Soerico certainly has a group of supporters in her corner too — notably, it seems, many Cambridge parents.

CBS Boston reported that many moms and dads picking their kids up from school after the controversy unfolded agreed with Soerico's motives: "That’s the librarian’s prerogative and I support her decision," one dad chimed in. "I think the letter is really articulate, constructive in its suggestions," another told the news outlet.

Whether or not you agree with the librarian's decision to reject Trump's gift, one undeniable point in her letter is worth remembering: Public school kids deserve better.

"Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit are suffering through expansion, privatization, and school 'choice' with no interest in outcomes of children, their families, their teachers, and their schools," Soerico wrote. "Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control?"

Of course not. And our education policies should reflect that.

True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.