Scholastic Halts Distribution of Book by ‘Captain Underpants’ Author

From The New York Times:

A children’s graphic novel by the creator of the popular “Captain Underpants” series was pulled from circulation last week by its publisher, which said that it “perpetuates passive racism.”

Scholastic said last week that it had halted distribution of the book, “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future,” originally published in 2010. The decision was made with “the full support” of its author, Dav Pilkey, the company said, adding that it had removed the book from its website and had stopped fulfilling orders for it.

“Together, we recognize that this book perpetuates passive racism,” the publisher said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry for this serious mistake.”

The graphic novel, which purports to have been written and illustrated by characters from the “Captain Underpants” series, follows Ook and Gluk, who live in the fictional town of Caveland, Ohio, in 500,001 B.C. The characters are pulled through a time portal to the year 2222, where they meet Master Wong, a martial arts instructor who teaches them kung fu.

. . . .

Mr. Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” books, featuring a superhero in briefs and a red cape, have been on The New York Times children’s series best-seller list for 240 weeks. In a letter posted on his YouTube channel on Thursday, Mr. Pilkey said he had “intended to showcase diversity, equality and nonviolent conflict resolution” with “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk,” about “a group of friends who save the world using kung fu and the principles found in Chinese philosophy.”

“But this week it was brought to my attention that this book also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery,” Mr. Pilkey wrote. “I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for this. It was and is wrong and harmful to my Asian readers, friends, and family, and to all Asian people.”

. . . .

Mr. Kim said he contacted Scholastic and spoke with a senior executive there, and he later spoke with Mr. Pilkey by videoconference for about 40 minutes. Mr. Pilkey, he said, apologized to him and his older son.

While Mr. Kim was glad the book was being pulled, he wrote that “the damage has been done.”

“Every child who has read this book has been conditioned to accept this racist imagery as ‘OK’ or even funny,” he wrote.

Cristina Rhodes, an English professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, said that Scholastic should have been aware of the racially insensitive imagery in the book a decade ago.

Stereotypical images and tropes can give young readers a distorted view of certain groups, Professor Rhodes said — as with Asians in this case. “Children see themselves reflected in books,” she said.

Lara Saguisag, an English professor specializing in children’s and young adult literature at the College of Staten Island, said she was surprised to see these images from Mr. Pilkey, who she said had energized children and appealed to “reluctant readers” by teaching them to love books and reading.

“I think it’s part of the alarm about these books because it’s been going under the radar,” she said.

Professor Saguisag said she hoped that Scholastic and other publishers would evaluate other books for racially insensitive imagery.

. . . .

“As long as profit is at the center, I feel like these such acts of pulling books from bookshelves will be the exception rather than the rule,” she added. “I hope I’m proven wrong.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Another screw-up by one of the curators of our literary culture. With a book that was published just 11 years ago.

Is it possible we need an entirely different group of curators?

Given their domination of children’s books sold in traditional bookstores, are we endangering children by allowing large publishers like Scholastic and other giant New York publishers to continue their careless and damaging corporate ways?

10 thoughts on “Scholastic Halts Distribution of Book by ‘Captain Underpants’ Author”

  1. You suffer from Traditional Publishing Derangement Syndrome. The book was published 11 years ago, when racial hypersensitivity didn’t exist. It’s impractical for a publisher to comb through what could be hundreds of backlist titles and scrutinize them for possible un=PC infractions.

    • But much more practical for a publisher to pick one author to be the ceremonial victim of a witch hunt for PR purposes, right?

      You seem to assume that a publisher ought to put backlist books out of print for ‘possible un-PC infractions’ if only it were practical. I find that assumption highly disturbing.

      Incidentally, ‘Traditional Publisher Derangement Syndrome’ is one of the best jokes I’ve heard in a while. It’s like saying that you would have to be crazy not to like arsenic in your tea. There is plenty to hate about the traditional publishing industry without being deranged.

  2. Hmm, TPDS does sound like a valid malady. Sympthoms to be included in the Diagnosis, marker board, HOUSE-style, can be found here:

    Spending years on a query-go-round, looking for somebody who’ll see them as the next Grisham (or equivalent), basing your self-worth on the opinions of others, selling years of work for pennies on the dollar or less, and coming back for more…

    Cure? Not as easy as the diagnosis.

    The lack of economic understanding is treatable with an intense course of market research but the low self-esteem and delusions are harder to dispel without extensive therapy and psychoactive medication. Care is needed because chronic cases can be fatal to the pocketbook.

  3. It seems to me that publishers these days are apparently following the Animal House pop culture phrase of “Oh boy is this gonna be great!” in regards to how they’re saving the world from having to rub their dainty little eyes because they saw “a archaic descriptive noun”, thus hyperventilating while clutching their Starbucks latte.

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