Barrington Stoke author defends children's book about racism

Barrington Stoke author defends children's book about racism

Author Mary Hoffman and her publisher Barrington Stoke have hit back against a complaint about a children's book about racism which uses offensive language.

Hoffman's book Deadly Letter, which is aimed at eight to 12 year olds, has been criticised for including the word "p*ki". It was banned from Greswold Primary School in Solihull, West Midlands, after a parent complained about the word being used in a chapter about racist abuse.

Parent Jay Desai, 39, told the Mirror newspaper she thought some of the words used in the book were “disgusting” and questioned why it had been published, despite conceding that it could help a child who was being bullied.

Hoffman and Barrington Stoke responded by defending the book, saying the context of the word being used was appropriate and not meant to cause offence.

The book tells the story of a girl called Prity who, upon starting a new school, finds herself excluded from some children's playground games and bullied by other children in the classroom.

The publisher said it has "every confidence" in Hoffman's ability to tacke the "difficult subject" of playground racism and bullying "truthfully and with sensitivity."

A spokesperson for the publisher told The Bookseller: "Through her own determination, spirit and ability to find friendship in unexpected places, Prity starts to feel more at home. In the context of this story, the word 'P*ki' is very deliberately used - in order to show the racism with which Prity is confronted and the impact that this racist vocabulary has on her.

"The use of this offensive term is challenged in different ways - and there is absolutely no sense in which the word is seen as acceptable. Our belief is that this story shows a proper, nuanced understanding of the issues involved in a way that we hope is appropriate for young readers."

Hoffman apologised for causing upset or offence with the book, which she said was "the opposite of [her] intention".

"I wrote the story partly to highlight casual racism which begins even in primary schools. My husband is half-Indian. I have three mixed-race children, now adults, and have been fighting racism all my adult writing life", she said.

The complaint was sparked by parent Jay Desai, 39, who told the Mirror newspaper she thought some of the words used in the book read by her nine-year-old daughter were “disgusting”.

"I don't know how it was published in the first place let alone distributed to schools," she said. "It makes comments about white people - all again very disgusting especially when the book is aimed at six and seven-year-olds. The school have been excellent in the way they dealt with the issue. They listened to my opinion and took on board my concerns. In certain situations, if someone was being bullied, the book could be great as it shows how a child feels when they are being bullied. But I don't think that particular word should be used in a book, especially one aimed at children."

Deadly Letter was first published in 1990, and was then republished by Barrington Stoke in 2014 as part of its 4u2read series, which is aimed at eight to 12s with a reading age of seven. ​