Abrams Books is ceasing publication of Bad Little Children's Books at the author's request, after the illustrated adult humor book sparked outrage online this past weekend. (Arthur C. Gackley is a pseudonym and the real identity of the author is not publicly known.)
While Bad Little Children's Books contains "offensively tweaked" parodies of children's book covers intended to be satirical and controversial, many members of the kid-lit community and others on Twitter criticized some of the images for reinforcing racial and cultural stereotypes and thereby promoting bigotry.
The book was published in September, but a post by Kelly Jensen on Book Riot titled "It’s Not Funny. It’s Racist" last Friday spurred the recent criticism on social media.
There comes a point when “funny” becomes straight up hate and when that hate is straight-up racist. ... This “humor” adds to the misinformation, adds to the hatred, and ultimately, makes living in this society more frustrating, difficult, and dangerous for so many. ... Shame on you Abrams, and shame on you, Gackley. Shame on everyone involved in this project who didn’t speak up and point out how utterly racist these “humorous” book covers are.
Initially, Abrams Books issued a statement defending the book to the Huffington Post.
The book follows in the long tradition of parody that, with humor, attacks attitudes and built-in societal perceptions with equal ruthlessness. Its intention is to shine a spotlight on stereotypes about race, gender, and difference that have become commonplace in today’s world and to, in fact, skewer all levels of societal bias. This is exactly what successful parody and satire is meant to do.
It was never our intention as publisher, nor the author’s, to spread or support hateful messaging. Some reviewers and commenters on social media have taken elements of the book at face value, which, we believe, misses the point of the book as a work of artistic parody and satire. We stand by our publication and invite readers to make up their own minds.
But by Sunday night, Bad Little Children's Books's author asked Abrams to pull it from publication because the book was being misread as "the very act of hate and bigotry that the work was meant to expose, not promote":
When I used the pseudonym of the fictitious “Arthur C. Gackley” to write the adult satire book, Bad Little Children’s Books, published by ABRAMS, I did so by following a long tradition of parody. The book is a collection of more than 120 over-the-top parodies of seemingly innocent children’s book covers, each mashed up in a manner that makes them unabashedly un-PC, rude, tasteless, inappropriate — or all the above. ... I was clearly commenting on the ridiculousness of biases, stereotypes, and intolerance through the prism of questionable taste and dark humor. ... 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.
... Some people have asked ABRAMS to ban the book and issue an apology for publishing it in the first place. ... This act of censorship is dangerous on so many levels, as free speech, satire, and parody are tools to help make us a stronger society, not a more divided one.
... However, 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, in turn, released an updated statement still defending the book but respecting the author's request to cease publication.
In the last few days some commentators on social media and those who follow them have taken elements of the book out of context, failing to recognize it as an artistic work of social satire and comic parody. They argue that it lends credence to the hateful views that the author’s work is clearly meant to mock, demean, expose, and subvert.
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 through its repulsive cover, its judgmental title, its explanatory subtitle, and its introduction which states, “Ultimately, they [the fake books covers] divide us as a society, stimulate queasiness, stir up uncomfortable gasps of incredulity, and in the end cause the reader to ask, ‘WTF?’”
... 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.
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 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.