Scholastic is pulling a ‘Captain Underpants’ spin-off over concerns about Asian stereotypes
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(CNN) — Scholastic has pulled a spin-off of the popular “Captain Underpants” series from circulation because it contains “passive” racist stereotypes and imagery of Asians.
The children’s book publisher announced last week that it had halted distribution of “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future,” a graphic novel published in 2010, with the blessing of its author, Dav Pilkey.
The book follows Ook and Gluk, two “cavekids” from the fictional town of Caveland in 500,001 B.C. After they get transported to the future and discover an evil corporation is stealing natural resources from their town, they befriend a martial arts instructor named Master Wong, who trains them in kung fu and ultimately helps them save the day.
“Together, we recognize that this book perpetuates passive racism,” Scholastic said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry for this serious mistake.”
Scholastic said it had removed the book from its websites and was seeking a return of all inventory, adding that it was informing retail partners, schools and libraries about its decision.
“Throughout our 100 year history, we have learned that trust must be won every day by total vigilance,” the statement continued. “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.”
The author has apologized
Days later, Pilkey apologized in a letter posted to his YouTube channel, saying he had recently been alerted to the “harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery” in his book.
“About ten 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. The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future was intended to showcase diversity, equality, and non-violent conflict resolution,” Pilkey wrote.
He continued, “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.”
Billy Kim, a Korean-American father of two children who started a Change.org petition about the novel, noted several problematic instances in the book, including “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.”
“While it is appreciated that they are pulling the book from retailers, this is not enough,” Kim wrote in the petition. “The damage has been done. Every child who has read this book has been conditioned to accept this racist imagery as “okay” or even funny. It is this type of passive racism that has contributed to the continued hate and prejudice experienced by Asian Americans on a daily basis.”
Pilkey and his wife pledged to donate his advance and royalties from “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future” to several non-profit organizations, among them groups that fight anti-Asian racism and violence and promote 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 is harmful to everyone,” Pilkey wrote. “I apologize, and I pledge to do better.”
The move comes during a rise in anti-Asian racism
The move by Scholastic and Pilkey comes during a time of heightened national attention on anti-Asian racism.
And since the pandemic began, Asian Americans have experienced verbal and physical assaults because of misguided fears about the coronavirus — fears that many attribute to former President Donald Trump’s repeated references to COVID-19 as “China virus” or “kung flu.”
Other children’s titles have undergone a similar reckoning in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would cease publication of six of the famed author and illustrator’s books that contain harmful portrayals of marginalized groups.