Facing mounting criticism from the children’s book community and on Twitter, Arthur Gackley, the author of Bad Little Children’s Books, a controversial adult book of parodies, has asked Abrams to cease its publication.
In September Abrams’ Image imprint, a line of illustrated humor and reference titles for adults, published Bad Little Children’s Books, an illustrated collection featuring parodies of classic children’s book covers based on a range of controversial and often blatantly offensive themes.
Although designed as satire—the book’s cover states that it offers “kid-lit parodies,” and “offensively tweaked covers”— Gackley, a pseudonym, offers a series of book cover parodies that range from jokes about farting and dildoes to far more provocative ones that use racial and cultural stereotypes involving Native Americans, Muslims and Islam.
In early December, Kelly Jensen, a book blogger and former librarian, wrote a blog post entitled “It’s Not Funny. It’s Racist,” which criticized the book, its author, and Abrams’ editorial team. “Shame on everyone involved in this project who didn’t speak up and point out how utterly racist these 'humorous' book covers are,” she wrote. “This kind of 'humor' is never acceptable. It’s deadly.”
Over the weekend, social media picked up on her post and criticism of the book and of Abrams grew substantially on Twitter.
Abrams had originally issued a statement in support of the book. The publisher said that “Bad Little Children’s Books is a work of parody and satire and, as such, it is intentionally, openly, and provocatively offensive. We took great pains to clearly label the book as such.”
Indeed, the National Coalition Against Censorship issued a statement in support of 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.”
The controversy around Bad Little Children’s Books follows other recent instances of outrage over children’s books considered to be offensive. Earlier this year e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s, When We Was Fierce (Candlewick), which employed a made-up urban dialect considered by some to be offensive, and A Birthday Cake for George Washington (Scholastic), illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton, about George Washington’s slaves, came under fire for being insensitive and using offensive racial stereotypes.
Although the author of Bad Little Children's Books cited positive reviews of the book and called the efforts to have the book banned an act of censorship, by late Sunday night he asked Abrams to withdraw the book from publication.
The author said, “The book is clearly not being read by some in the way I had intended—as satire—and, more disturbingly, is being misread as the very act of hate and bigotry that the work was meant to expose, not promote. For this reason, I have asked Abrams to cease publishing the book.”
Abrams' statement said: "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."
Clarification: Abrams is not withdrawing Bad Little Children's Book from the market; but it will not go back to press for additional copies.