Friday, March 26, 2021

Why did Dav Pilkey and Scholastic decide they will no longer publish THE ADVENTURES OF OOK AND GLUK, KUNG FU CAVEMEN FROM THE FUTURE?

Note: These updates are based on information I received after I wrote the blog post. They are in reverse chronological order (newest one appears first):

Update from Debbie on Sunday, March 28 at 12:50 PM: I talked with Mr. Kim. In my conversation with him, it is clear to me that his conversations with Mr. Pilkey have been positive. I'm glad to know that is the case. Mr. Kim has inserted two edits to the third paragraph of the petition. They are in bold, italicized font and read as follows:

(Edit: 3.28.21 1:10pm EST - At the time I drafted this petition, I had emailed Scholastic with my requests and interpreted their delay in responding as a refusal to acknowledge same. I now believe this is inaccurate and misleading, as Mr. Pilkey made clear to me later on that he and Scholastics were in discussions behind-the-scenes to address these issues that I was not privy to).

(Edit: 3.28.21 1:10pm EST - Per my conversations with Dav Pilkey, he and his family made donations to an AAPI-affiliated organization prior to his public apology, and there was no refusal on Mr. Pilkey's end to donate). 

Here is a screen capture of that paragraph. It is an important update to the petition:

 Update from Debbie on Sunday, March 28 at 9:45 AM: I received an email from Mr. Kim and I hope he edits the petition. As Sayuri Pilkey said, it does not accurately reflect Mr. Pilkey's response. But I am not casting aspersions on Mr. Kim, either. Parents speaking up for our children and our peoples often do so from emotional and painful spaces. 

Update from Debbie on Sunday, March 28 2021 at 5:01 AM: I've reached out to Mr. Kim but he has not yet replied. I was able to see his posts to Facebook about these events. In reading them, I believe Sayuri Pilkey is correct: Dav Pilkey did not refuse to make a public statement. The refusals were coming from Scholastic and I believe Scholastic's wishes that this all happen quietly are why Mr. Kim posted his petition at the Change site. The writing in the petition still says "Scholastic and Mr. Pilkey" and I hope that Mr. Kim edits that as soon as possible. His "Update" does not constitute an edit to the original petition. 

Update from Debbie on Saturday, March 27 2021 at 11:00 AM: There is conflicting information regarding the sequence of events, and Dav Pilkey's response to Mr. Kim. Sayuri Pilkey submitted three comments on March 27 at 12:59 AM, 1:34 AM, and 2:49 AM. Comments to AICL are moderated (due to spam). Just now (11:00 AM), I opened the submitted comments page on my site and saw Sayuri Pilkey's comments. As soon as I can, I'll place the comments within the body of the post (lot of people don't read comments). 

Update from Debbie on Saturday, March 27, 2021 at 4:55 AM: I changed the original title of this post into a question ("Why did...") because the original title was misleading. While it is important that Pilkey and Scholastic made the decision to stop publishing the Ook and Gluk book, people are praising them in ways that I don't think are merited. A Korean American parent brought the stereotyping in the book to their attention. They agreed it was a problem but refused to say anything publicly. The public statements from Pilkey and Scholastic came about after the parent posted a petition at the Change site. I believe the parent was correct in asking for public statements and donations from sales of the book. The public is best-served by open discussions of problems in books like Ook and Gluk.  

On March 25, 2021 Dav Pilkey, best selling author and illustrator of children's books, issued this apology on his YouTube page:
Hi everyone, I’m Dav Pilkey. 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. But this week it was brought to my attention that this book also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery. 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. My publisher, Scholastic, Inc., has stepped forward to share my responsibility, and together we are ceasing all further publication of The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, and are actively working to remove existing copies from retail and library shelves. I hope that you, my readers, will forgive me, and learn from my mistake that even unintentional and passive stereotypes and racism are harmful to everyone. I apologize, and I pledge to do better. Sincerely, Dav Pilkey PS. My wife and I pledge to donate all of my advance and royalties from the sale of The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future to charities that provide free books, art supplies, and theater for children in underserved communities; organizations that promote diversity in children’s books and publishing; and organizations designed to stop hatred and violence against Asian. These non-profit charities include: We Need Diverse Books, The AAPI, and TheaterWorks USA, among others.

Events that led Pilkey and Scholastic to cease publication of The Adventures of Ook and Gluk are noted below.

In a petition at Change, a Korean American father wrote that his two children are huge fans of Pilkey's books. They found Ook and Gluk at the library and brought it home. In his petition, he wrote:
Upon close inspection, I realized the book relied upon multiple instances of racist imagery and stereotypical tropes, including a "Kung Fu master" wearing what's purported to be a traditional-style Tang coat, 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 (despite the fact that they were taught said skills from the supposed master). 
The father reached out to Scholastic and they had several conversations. Scholastic agreed to pull the book from retailers, but, Scholastic and Mr. Pilkey refused to publicly acknowledge and apologize for the book, and declined to donate proceeds from the book's run as a bestseller (it was on the NY Times bestseller lists for 33 weeks) to AAPI. 

Those refusals, I gather, are what led the Korean American father to launch a petition on the Change site. I cannot find date/time stamps on the petition at the Change site that would tell me when it was posted. In the update tab dated March 26, the Korean-American father reported that Pilkey had apologized and that Scholastic was going to do so, too.  Here, I am sharing that update in its entirety:

MAR 26, 2021 — 

UPDATE: My head is spinning. Thank you so much for sharing and spreading the word. Mr. Pilkey reached out to me via FaceTime to acknowledge that the images in “Ook and Gluk” were racist and offensive, and that it was unintentional and stemmed from his own ignorance. Mr. Pilkey was extremely apologetic and remorseful, felt terrible that he had put something into the world that could have such a negative effect on our children. He personally apologized to my son as well.

Mr. Pilkey also listened patiently while I explained to him why I thought it was so important to publicly acknowledge that these images were harmful, and that a donation should be made to an AAPI org as a form of reparation. He was hesitant about the apology and advised he’d need to discuss it with his family. He did point out that he had already donated to an organization days before.

Within an hour of ending our 40 minute conversation, Mr. Pilkey emailed to let me know he would be issuing a formal and public apology.

I can’t believe how quickly this happened and believe it speaks to the sincerity of the author and his willingness do the right thing. This is not about canceling people. It was a teachable moment and I’m grateful Mr. Pilkey listened.

Another update, also dated March 26, includes the screen capture of the apology on Pilkey's YouTube page (shared at the top of this post).

Earlier today (March 26), Scholastic issued a press release telling us they made their decision on Monday, March 22nd.  Here's the statement:


On Monday, March 22, 2021, with the full support of Dav Pilkey, Scholastic halted distribution of the 2011 book The Adventures of Ook and Gluk. Together, we recognize that this book perpetuates passive racism. We are deeply sorry for this serious mistake. Scholastic has removed the book from our websites, stopped fulfillment of any orders (domestically or abroad), contacted our retail partners to explain why this book is no longer available, and sought a return of all inventory. We will take steps to inform schools and libraries who may still have this title in circulation of our decision to withdraw it from publication.  

Throughout our 100 year history, we have learned that trust must be won every day by total vigilance. 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.

We can all be glad and encouraged by Pilkey and Scholastic's decision. It is important to know, however, that Scholastic continues to publish many books with stereotypical and racist images. 

Five years ago, they withdrew A Birthday Cake for George Washington because of its smiling slaves content. If they had issued a directive, then, that every book they publish would be examined, Pilkey's book would have been pulled, but it wasn't. It was out there for another five years, shaping the way readers see Asian Americans, Asians, and specifically, Chinese people. That fact alone casts Scholastic's "total vigilance" into question. They made their decision on Monday, March 22nd, which is five days ago. Are they now reexamining all their books? I doubt it. 

I keep a log of changes to books, and books that are withdrawn. It includes links to information. 


Sayuri Pilkey said...

Please reach out to the Korean-American father, Mr. Billy Kim. I believe he is on Twitter and Facebook. Unfortunately, Dav is not on and has never been on Twitter and/or Facebook. It was incorrect of Billy Kim to say that, Pilkey refused to apologize and or make any contributions to AAPI or similar organizations. As soon as Dav heard about the complaint, he set up a FaceTime call with Billy Kim immediately. You may confirm this will Billy Kim. I assure you, this is not an attempt by Dav to salvage his career. He is willing to sacrifice his career for the betterment of children. He decided to give all of his advance for Ook and Gluk and royalties past and future to many diverse organizations which he has been supporting even BEFORE this incident occurred. He has given the entirety of his earnings to various organizations in the past long, long before he was even well-known and continues to support various organizations who seek change. I just want the facts to be reported correctly. Sayuri Pilkey

Sayuri Pilkey said...

I should have clarified in my comment earlier that when Scholastic received Billy Kim's complaint, both Dav Pilkey and Scholastic agreed immediately to pull the book from all markets and cease publication of the book. Dav felt very badly and did not see the passive racism. I didn't see it either and I am Asian. Dav actually researched Kung Fu and he thought he depicted the Asians as the heroes. This is how deep passive racism is in our society and how it's been normalized. Thanks to Billy Kim, it was brought to our attention. Dav Pilkey did not "refuse to apologize" he didn't want to do it publicly only because he thought it would diminish the cause and make it about him instead of the passive racism. And he was afraid people would buy up the books and then sell them on Ebay. That was his concern when speaking with Billy Kim. Billy told him that it would be better to do a public apology so people could be educated especially children who love Dav's books. Immediately after his call with Billy Kim, Dav wrote his public apology, posted it, and notified Billy Kim. I hope you read the book and let us know about any other problems you see in the book. Please also let us know about Native American organizations we can make financial contributions. We hope we can continue this dialogue and we hope to continue to learn and grow from our mistakes.

Sayuri Pilkey said...

I wanted to clarify and if you reach out to the parent Billy Kim he can verify: he posted his complaint about Dav not responding BEFORE he talked with Dav and he posted the incorrect information hours before and knowing that Dav had set up a phone call with him on Thurs. March 25th making his post unfair and incorrect. Billy Kim did edit his post but no one sees these edits or the timeline. Again, Dav does not want people to defend his ignorance. After over 10 years (book was published in Aug. 2010 another incorrect info), Billy Kim on March 22nd, 2021, is the first and only person who complained about the book. I am Asian. I thought Dav depicted the Asians as heroes. The head of We Need Diverse Books, Ellen Oh, loved the book. Dav had 2 Asian editors working on the book. In this long period of almost 11 years, not one person had brought up the passive racism against Asians to Dav or to me. This is the problem. No one noticed until now. Other than intentional misspellings, what are other problems you see in the book? It's a perfect time to continue this dialogue. Again, Dav and I have continued to support organizations for change long BEFORE any of this happened. Dav gave all of his earnings to several organizations in the past. He isn't looking for publicity. We hope we can continue to discuss and learn and grow. Thank you for the work you do for children's literature. Sayuri Pilkey (Dav Pilkey's business manager and partner)