Around 350 people have signed an open letter urging Picador to “reach out beyond the publishing world” for its forthcoming revision of Kate Clanchy’s Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me.
Clanchy’s Orwell Prize-winning book faced criticism last month for her portrayal of some children, including Black and autistic pupils, after passages were posted online. Monisha Rajesh, Professor Sunny Singh and Chimene Suleyman, who criticised the book, were hit with racist abuse, which was later condemned by more than 1,000 people in an open letter. The author is now rewriting parts of the book for the autumn with help from “specialist readers”.
However, another open letter penned by teacher Diane Leedham and signed by hundreds of other educators, parents and writers, has called on the imprint to go further, and questions “the probable sufficiency and efficacy of a reparative revision”. Picador has said it will respond to the letter on 6th September.
The letter, which is still open for signatures, states: “If Picador and Ms Clanchy are determined to revise the text and reprint then we call upon you to hold yourselves to the highest ethical and professional standards in the process. The book has been marketed as non-fiction, which signposts Ms Clanchy’s credibility and authority as a teacher—there is therefore a professional accountability and a duty of care to be considered.”
It also calls for “respectful representations” of pupils and their families, particularly around characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, social class, sexuality and special educational needs and disabilities. It asks for confidentiality of privileged information about students, “informed consent” from all concerned and attention to student wellbeing. Educational settings should also not be excluded from the process, it argues.
The letter adds: “We wonder what organisational brand values Picador wishes to convey via this rewrite and call upon you to be both reflective and transparent. Who is helping you with this work? We strongly suggest that Picador and Ms Clanchy reach out beyond the publishing world in this process, in particular to Oxford Spires [a school where Clanchy has taught poetry] and Anthem Trust for guidance in relation to the representations and safeguarding of students and staff at Oxford Spires and the Inclusion Unit.”
Finally, the letter says those who have signed it are “very concerned about the ongoing monetisation of a book which has been recognised as problematic”. It states: “In our view, a solution to this would be to direct profit from both recent sales and those generated by a new edition towards a more equitable book commission which gives full agency to young people in their own voices—perhaps a teenage version of The Good Immigrant or Common People, supported by appropriate adult mentorship."
A spokesperson for Picador said: "Picador can confirm it has received the letter from Diane Leedham and will respond directly on Monday addressing all the points raised."
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