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Scholastic Halts Distribution of Book by ‘Captain Underpants’ Author

Scholastic Halts Distribution of Book by ‘Captain Underpants’ Author

The book, “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future” by Dav Pilkey, includes images and tropes that perpetuate “passive racism,” the publisher said.

By Christina MoralesMarch 28, 2021

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.

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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.”GET THE BOOK REVIEW NEWSLETTER: Be the first to see reviews, news and features in The New York Times Book Review.Sign Up

“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. Pilkey declined to comment through Scholastic. He and his wife, he wrote on YouTube, planned to donate his advance and all of his royalties from the novel’s sales to a variety of organizations, including groups dedicated to stopping violence and hatred against Asians and to promoting diversity in children’s books and publishing.

“I hope that you, my readers, will forgive me, and learn from my mistake that even unintentional and passive stereotypes and racism are harmful to everyone,” he wrote. “I apologize, and I pledge to do better.”

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The decision by Scholastic to pull the book came days after a man opened fire at three massage businesses in and near Atlanta, killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent. In the last year, nearly 3,800 hate incidents were reported against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders nationwide, according to Stop AAPI Hate.

Activists and elected officials have said that these attackers were fueled by former President Donald J. Trump’s frequent use of racist language to refer to the coronavirus.

Earlier this month, the estate of Dr. Seuss announced that six of his books would no longer be published because they contained depictions of groups that were “hurtful and wrong.” The decision prompted complaints about “cancel culture” from prominent conservatives.

Scholastic said it was pulling “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk” shortly after Billy Kim, a Korean-American father of two children, ages 5 and 7, started a petition on Change.org demanding an apology from the publisher after he borrowed the book from a library.

“I realized the book relied upon multiple instances of racist imagery and stereotypical tropes,” he wrote in a message accompanying the petition.

He said these included a kung fu master wearing traditional clothing, Asian characters with dashes for eyes, the use of stereotypical Chinese proverbs, and a story line in which the kung fu master is rescued by non-Asian protagonists using skills he taught them.

“How is it in the last 10 years nobody said anything about it?” Mr. Kim, of Manhasset, N.Y., said in an interview.

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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.

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“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.”Dr. Seuss Books Are Pulled, and a ‘Cancel Culture’ Controversy EruptsMarch 4, 2021Y.A. Author Pulls Her Debut After Pre-Publication Accusations of RacismJan. 31, 2019

Christina Morales is a reporter covering national breaking news for the Express desk. She is also a member of the 2020-21 New York Times fellowship class.  @Christina_M18

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Is Captain Underpants spinoff ‘racist’? Scholastic CANCELS book over Asian stereotypes and Kung-Fu master

The plot features the master being rescued by the story’s non-Asian protagonists using their Kung Fu skills while invoking Chinese proverbsBy Bhagyasri Chaudhury
Updated On : 19:37 PST, Mar 28, 2021     Tags :Atlanta
                            Is Captain Underpants spinoff 'racist'? Scholastic CANCELS book over Asian stereotypes and Kung-Fu master‘The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future’ by Dav Pilkey will no longer be in distribution (Scholastic, Getty Images)

Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of educational books for children, announced last week it would no longer distribute the ‘Captain Underpants’ spinoff. The publishing house claimed that it will no longer distribute ‘The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen’ from the Future as it ‘perpetuates passive racism’ against Asians.

This comes days after John Joyce, R-Pa, fought back against cancel culture, arguing that no one is “safe” from the “woke” movement, by introducing the Guarding Readers’ Independence and Choice (GRINCH) Act to safeguard children’s literature from being “canceled”. 

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Critics charge that the book’s storyline includes problematic illustrations of a “Kung-Fu master” wearing traditional Asian garb. The plot features the master being rescued by the story’s non-Asian protagonists using their Kung Fu skills while invoking Chinese proverbs.

An online petition circulated by one Billy Kim, a Korean-American father of two, demanded that Scholastic apologize for publishing the book. He said it includes “multiple instances of racist imagery and stereotypical tropes, including a “Kung-Fu master” wearing what’s purported to be a traditional-style Tang coat, dashes for eyes for the Asian characters, stereotypical Chinese proverbs, and a storyline that has the Kung-Fu master rescued by the non-Asian protagonists using their Kung-Fu skills (despite the fact that they were taught said skills from the supposed master), reported the Daily Mail.

The Change.org petition, which was initially published on March 25, 2021, has claimed victory with 289 supporters. “This is flat out wrong, scholastic is a brand I’ve trusted and supported since my own childhood and to see this level of racism in a book meant for young children explains so much about why our society is the way it is,” said one signee, Sue Lee. “I’ve always hated these awful stereotypes and have always felt wronged by them,” says Rebekah Kao.

The move by the publisher to stop the distribution of the book, which comes amid a wave of anti-Asian American violence nationwide during the Covid-19 pandemic, has the ‘full support’ of the book’s author Dav Pilkey. The American cartoonist and illustrator is best known for his hit children’s novel series ‘Captain Underpants’, which in 2013 was considered ‘the most banned book in America’ as parents complained about its violent imagery.

Illustrations from the book (Change.org)

“About 10 years ago, I created a book about a group of friends who save the world using Kung Fu and the principles found in Chinese philosophy,’ Pilkey wrote in an apology he posted on YouTube. “‘The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future’ was intended to showcase diversity, equality, and non-violent conflict resolution. But this week it was brought to my attention that this book also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery. 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,” he said.

The illustrator wrote that Scholastic has “stepped forward to share (his) responsibility” and “together (they) are ceasing all further publication” of the book. “I hope that you, my readers, will forgive me, and learn from my mistake that even unintentional and passive stereotypes and racism is harmful to everyone,” Pilkey said in the post, adding that he apologizes and pledges “to do better”.

No specific examples from the book found to be problematic were cited by Pilkey or Scholastic. The publisher said in a statement, “Together, we recognize that this book perpetuates passive racism. We are deeply sorry for this serious mistake. Scholastic has removed the book from our websites, stopped fulfillment of any orders (domestically or abroad), contacted our retail partners to explain why this book is no longer available, and sought a return of all inventory.” “We will take steps to inform schools and libraries who may still have this title in circulation of our decision to withdraw it from publication,” it added.

The canceling comes after the mass shooting that took place in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16. Six women of Asian descent were among eight people killed by a gunman at massage parlors in and around the area. The spate of such violence has brought the nation’s attention to the issue of anti-Asian racism.

Scholastic pulls book by ‘Captain Underpants’ author Dav Pilkey with ‘harmful racial stereotypes’

Hannah YasharoffUSA TODAY0:051:20https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.447.1_en.html#goog_409867756

Scholastic has pulled a book by “Captain Underpants” author Dav Pilkey that the publisher says “perpetuates passive racism.” 

“The Adventures of Ook and Gluk,” published in 2010, served as a spinoff of sorts from his popular “Captain Underpants” children’s series: The two main characters from “Underpants” are listed as the author and illustrator of the book, during which they sought to clear up “science facts” with a story about time-traveling cavemen who train at Master Wong’s School of Kung-Fu.

Pilkey said he created the book to “showcase diversity, equality and non-violent conflict resolution” using “principles found in Chinese philosophy” but had recently been alerted that it “also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery.” 

“I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for this,” he wrote Friday in a statement. “It was and is wrong and harmful to my Asian readers, friends and family, and to all Asian people. … I hope that you, my readers, will forgive me, and learn from my mistake that even unintentional and passive stereotypes and racism is harmful to everyone. I apologize, and I pledge to do better.” 

"Captain Underpants" author Dav Pilkey has apologized for a 2010 book that contains "harmful racial stereotypes."

The author gave his “full support” to halting distribution of the book beginning last week, Scholastic said in a statement Friday, and the author pledged to donate “all of my advance and royalties” from the book sales to nonprofits including We Need Diverse Books, The AAPI and TheaterWorks USA that “provide free books, art supplies and theater for children in underserved communities; organizations that promote diversity in children’s books and publishing; and organizations designed to stop Asian hatred.” https://0c26a777a3bf1c0dc1d231f874595945.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlhttps://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/usat/sf-q1a2z3be0d353f.min.html

“Together, we recognize that this book perpetuates passive racism,” Scholastic’s statement added. “We are deeply sorry for this serious mistake.” 

The publisher has removed the book from its sites, stopped order fulfillments, “sought a return of all inventory” and says it will “take steps to inform schools and libraries who may still have this title in circulation of our decision to withdraw it from publication.” 

Scholastic added: “Throughout our 100-year history, we have learned that trust must be won every day by total vigilance. It is our duty and privilege to publish books with powerful and positive representations of our diverse society, and we will continue to strengthen our review processes as we seek to support all young readers.” 

Dav Pilkey's "The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future" will cease publication, Scholastic announced.

Pilkey is the author of nearly 50 books, the best known of which are from his USA TODAY bestselling series “Captain Underpants,” which follows the story of two young boys who go on adventures to save the world with the help of their grumpy teacher, Mr. Krupp, who transforms into alter ego Captain Underpants at a snap of the fingers. It was made into an animated film in 2017, starring Ed Helms as the eponymous hero. https://0c26a777a3bf1c0dc1d231f874595945.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The decision to pull “Ook and Gluk” comes amid a reckoning in the book industry and beyond for past works that include harmful racist depictions.

More:Dr. Seuss dominates USA TODAY bestseller’s list amid controversy, takes six of Top 10 spots

Six Dr. Seuss books – “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer” – were pulled from publication because of racist and insensitive imagery, the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy announced this month on the late author’s birthday. 

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises told The Associated Press. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.” 

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