US publisher Abrams is discontinuing the publication of Bad Little Children's Books in both the UK and America at the author's request after the book came under heavy fire on social media.
The title takes traditional artwork from children's books and subverts it with captions and additions. Its aim was to make the illustrations "unabashedly un-PC, rude, tasteless, inappropriate—or all the above", but the jokes extended to racial and cultural stereotypes, involving Native Americans, Muslims and Islam, and has sparked a backlash on social media.
Criticism of the book began when Book Riot blogger Kelly Jensen called it racist. In a blog she took issue with several of the illustrations: one that plays with the suggestion small pox is a disease rampant in the Navajo community ("the anti-vaccine kid"), another that captions a page of rockets with "missiles of the Islamic State", and a scene in which a girl wearing a burka is seen giving a "ticking" present to a little boy.
"In a culture which is hateful and violent against anyone outside of the Christian norm, particularly Muslims, who thought this was even an okay image to present in a book, humorous or not? This is the sort of harmful imagery and stereotyping that literally kills lives — and it’s not the lives of little white boys who are dying. It’s the lives of those, like the girl in the burka, who are impacted by disgusting 'humour' like this," wrote Jensen.
One Twitter user called Debbie Reese tweeted: “From my POV, @ABRAMSbooks "Bad Little Children's Books" sounds like it could have been written by Trump.”
Another, Nick Hanover, tweeted: “We need to stop letting entities like @ABRAMSbooks claim satire whenever they want to publish hateful trash.”
Abrams has defended the title and its author, who wrote the book under the pseudonymous name Arthur C Gackley. Abrams said the adult-humour book had received "glowing reviews" upon publication in September 2016 by those who had "understood its subversive, satirical intention". Abrams also said it had been "deeply saddened" and "disheartened" by inaccurate depictions of and calls to censor the book, despite the "great pains" it had taken to clearly label the work as "intentionally, openly, and provocatively offensive" through its "repulsive" cover, "judgmental" title, explanatory subtitle and introduction.
An Abrams spokesperson in the US said in a statement it would no longer be publishing the book at the author's request, responding to the public outcry. The decision applies globally, with Abrams UK saying it will not do any more print runs.
"When first released in September 2016, Bad Little Children’s Books received glowing reviews. Readers and press who saw and reviewed the book understood its subversive, satirical intention. Huffington Post, Washington Post, Boing Boing, Bust, and Print magazine were among the positive press. We, and the book’s author, are deeply saddened that Bad Little Children’s Books is being depicted inaccurately on social media. We also hear the concerns," the statement said.
"At Abrams our books and our publishing house have never nor will ever stand for bigotry or hatred. Those misrepresentations, aspersions, and claims surrounding the book, and the attempts to promulgate them, fly in the face of the values that our company and our employees hold dear.
"We have a long record of publishing and promoting creative expression in many forms. We stand fully behind freedom of speech and artistic expression, and fully support the First Amendment. We have been disheartened by calls to censor the book and to stifle the author’s right to express his artistic vision by people we would expect to promote those basic fundamental rights and freedoms.
"However, faced with the misperceived message of the book, we are respecting the author’s request."
Its anonymous author responded, too, calling the book an “equal opportunity offender” and refering to the the long tradition of parody the book followed. The intention of the book is to "expose" bigotry rather than perpetuate it, the author said, arriving at his decision to ask Abrams to stop publishing the book because it was being "misread".
"The artistic statement that I tried to make in the book is to offend and, by doing so, to shine the uncomfortable light of day on bigotry, prejudice, and hate; in effect, to refuse to let those pernicious and undermining sentiments stand," the author said. "That’s been part of my life’s work and what I hoped to achieve with this book."
The National Coalition Against Censorship has authored a letter of support for the book. “We support Abrams’ decision to publish this, or any other book, even if it offends some readers. We urge the company not to accede to pressure to withdraw the book, but to stand for the proposition that it is the right of authors to write as they choose and of individuals to decide for themselves what to read. After all, anyone who doesn’t like the book doesn’t have to buy it.”
The trend for nostalgia and parody continues with Michael Joseph releasing The Ladybird Book of Boxing Day (Ladybirds for Grown-Ups) last Thursday (1st December). Quercus released its own series of parodies, Five Go, with the blesisng of the Enid Blyton estate in November, with titles including Five on Brexit Island and Five Go Gluten Free. Hodder & Stoughton has meanwhile released a stand alone parody on hygge, Say Ja to Hygge.