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. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021


On March 24th, Jean posted her review of Ella Cara Deloria: Dakota Language Protector. It is one of three terrific books published by the Minnesota Humanities Center. Read her review! Today, I'm sharing my thoughts on another book in that series. 

Highly Recommended!

Peggy Flanagan: Ogimaa Kwe, Lieutenant Governor
Written by Jessica Engelking
Illustrations by Tashia Hart
Published by Minnesota Humanities Center
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


A few months ago, when I saw the cover of this book on social media, I was psyched! Well, let me say that again: 

I was psyched!!!! 

Across Native networks, we've been deeply supportive of Native people who run for state and national offices--especially Native women. I had come to know about Flanagan from friends and colleagues in Minnesota, and I was thrilled when, in 2018, she was elected as the Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota. 

That's Native context. 

Now, consider another context: biographies in children's literature. For a chapter in a book due out this year, Representations and Possibilities: Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children's Books edited by Thomas Crisp, Suzanne M. Knezek, and Roberta Price Gardner, Betsy McEntarffer and I did research on children's biographies of Native people. As you might guess, we found very few on women, very few by Native writers, and very few about Native people who were born after 1900. 

And now, consider state history standards. In their study of the standards, Dr. Sarah Shear and her colleagues found that eighty-seven of the state history standards to not mention Native history after 1900. 

Regular readers of AICL know that we write a lot about the need for books by Native writers that are set in the present day. They can function as a mirror for Native kids where they see a reflection of who they are, and a window for non-Native kids that can tell them that Native people are citizens or members of hundreds of distinct Native Nations and that we are here--in the present day. The state history standards are telling, aren't they? Kids are not taught that we are still here. Books like this biography of Flanagan fill a huge gap in what is available, but it ought to be inserted in those state standards documents, too!

If Betsy and I were writing that chapter on non-fiction today, we'd be including Engleking and Hart's biography of Peggy Flanagan. We might start with a close look at the cover. That, of course, is Peggy Flanagan, but study the illustration. 

On her blouse is a strawberry. Wild strawberries are a traditional Ojibwe food. Behind Flanagan are three flags. Not two, but three. One is the US flag, another is the Minnesota flag, and the third? Well--that's the White Earth Nation's flag:

Most readers may not notice the strawberry or the flag, but Ojibwe families will, for sure! Hart's illustrations and Engleking's words are mirrors of their identity. 

The subtitle for the book includes "Ogimaa Kwe." Those are Ojibwe words. Throughout the book, readers will find additional Ojibwe words--which adds another layer of the books mirror-like qualities for Ojibwe children. 

The biography starts in 1986 when Flanagan was in first grade in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. It is recess time, and Peggy is outside, playing. But she’s thinking about the lessons they were doing before recess. Her teacher had been talking about Christopher Columbus. Peggy knows her people were here before he was, and she knows the impact of Europeans on Native peoples, so, she’s not looking forward to going back into the classroom where she anticipates they’ll keep talking about him. Hart’s illustration for that page shows three kids at desks, taking notes as a teacher writes on the chalkboard. We can see Peggy’s page. She’s not taking notes. Instead, she’s sketched a sad face. Here's that page:

That, too, is a mirror of Native experiences in school. For far too long, Native children have been in classrooms where a teacher puts that myth forward, uncritically. I'm glad that's in there, and I hope it is the nudge teachers need to stop doing that! 

As we move through the book, we learn that Peggy and her mother needed food stamps. That honesty is important. We also learn that Peggy found teachers who believed in her. When we move to Peggy's college years, we learn that she went to St. Cloud State University in 1998 but transferred a year later, to the University of Minnesota. There, we read about how excited she was to walk into a classroom and see someone who looked like her. That person is Professor Brenda Child. An aside: Dr. Child has written excellent books for adults but she also wrote the children's picture book, Bowwow Powwow, which we at AICL highly recommend. The last chapter is about Flanagan being sworn in as Lt. Governor of Minnesota in 2019, and the back matter includes an Ojibwe timeline and a set of questions for discussion. Those are precisely the kinds of things that make it possible for teachers to more readily use the books in the classroom.

The illustrator, Tashia Hart, is also a writer. I’ve got her Gidjie and the Wolves in my to-be-read pile, and I follow her on social media. She’s working on a romance novel! Anybody who reads romance novels knows that genre is flooded with white women writing dreadful books that are marketed as being about Native people. 

As I sit here, re-reading what I've written about Peggy Flanagan: Ogimaa Kwe, Lieutenant Governor, I think you can tell that the book resonates with me, tremendously. It does that in another way. The book came out in 2020. In the "About the Author" note, I see this:
She currently resides in Minnetonka and is isolating in Elklader, Iowa...
Isolating. It is the first book I read that referred to the pandemic and its impact on all of us. Somehow, Engleking's reference to isolation touches on a tender place. As I write this review, we feel that we see hope at the end of a long year. Part of that light is seeing another Native woman assuming a leadership role. Of course, I'm referring to Deb Haaland of Laguna Pueblo, who was sworn in as Secretary of the Interior. She has worn traditional Pueblo clothing for many events, including at her swearing in. 

We need a biography of her, and of Sharice Davids, too. She's Ho-Chunk and was elected to Congress to represent Kansas, in 2019. Haaland was also elected that year, to represent New Mexico. 

I best hit the pause button on this post! I highly recommend Engleking and Hart's biography of Flanagan. As I noted up top, Jean reviewed another book in this three-book series, and we've got one more to do! That'll be Kade Ferris's book about Charles Albert Bender! 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Recommended: Ella Cara Deloria, Dakota Language Protector


Ella Cara Deloria: Dakota Language Protector
Written by Diane Wilson (Dakota)
Illustrations by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinaabe)
Published by Minnesota Humanities Center in partnership 
with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

AICL readers, and especially middle-grade teachers! Don't miss the book launch for a new series that I wish had been available for my kids! 

You can register now to attend the online event Thursday, March 25, 2021, from 6:30 -8:00 PM (Central), to celebrate the publication of three biographies for students in 3rd-5th grade (and beyond). 

They are part of the Minnesota Humanities Center's new Minnesota Native American Lives series (created in partnership with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. The series will feature Ojibwe and Dakota people whose contributions deserve to be better known. Though the subjects of the bios all lived, or live, in what is currently called the state of Minnesota, they are figures whose impact extends well beyond the state borders. Represented so far are MN lieutenant governor Peggy Flanagan (Ojibwe), Ojibwe baseball star Charles Albert Bender, and Ella Cara Deloria, a Dakota anthropologist and language preservationist.

Heid E. Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) and Gwen Nell Westerman (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate) are the series editors. Each of the books is written by a tribally-affiliated Native author, and illustrated by Red Lake Anishinaabe artist Tashia Hart. We'll be reviewing each of the books on AICL, starting now with Ella Cara Deloria: Dakota Language Protector.

Author Diane Wilson (Dakota) follows Ella Deloria from her childhood on the Standing Rock reservation to the creation of a fellowship in her name at Columbia University in 2010, nearly 4 decades after her death in 1971. Wilson emphasizes Deloria's key role in preserving traditional Dakota stories and the Dakota language, and focuses on the life experiences -- including racism and poverty -- that influenced her. 

One fundamental influence was the way Ella's grandparents and parents interpreted the situation that Native people found themselves in during the time Ella was a child. She was born in 1889, when Native peoples were often, essentially, prisoners on their own drastically reduced homelands. They were still targeted for assimilation or outright destruction by the settler-colonizer government that had long sought full control of the resources on the continent. Ella's family saw advantages to being bilingual and bicultural -- knowing both their Dakota traditional ways, and those of the English-speaking Christian settler-colonizer culture. Ella's father was ordained as an Episcopal priest. Her younger brother, Vine, also became a priest (and as Wilson points out, was paid considerably less than his white counterparts). The late Dakota writer and intellectual Vine Deloria Jr. was Ella's nephew. 

Wilson shows how, even in the context of a rather remarkable family, Ella's intelligence, talent, and energy stood out. Ultimately, she used her education to protect her home language and promote greater general understanding of Native peoples and cultures. Along the way, she worked with well-known anthropologists such as Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead. Mead became a friend. Boas was a valued mentor, though if we read between the lines of this biography, it seems that he also may have exploited her abilities and commitment. For some of the time she worked with him, she was so poorly paid that she and her sister had to live in their car. 

I especially enjoy the way Wilson begins each chapter with a quote from Ella Deloria's writing. This is ensures that young readers get to "hear" her voice. 

Teachers are likely to appreciate the "Extend Your Learning" section in the back of this book and the others in the series. The section includes "Ideas for Writing and Discussion," "Ideas for Visual Projects," "Ideas for Further Learning," and a timeline that starts in 900 (Common Era) and ends with Peggy Flanagan's swearing-in as lieutenant governor in 2019. 

As a mother, grandmother, and auntie of Native kids, it's hard for me to put into words how moved I am by the existence of this series. Overall, in terms of which Native people are seen as biography material, it doesn't seem that much has changed since my children were actually children. At the time, it seemed that most biographies of Native people were of military leaders (Sitting Bull, Geronimo), or of Sacagawea, or Pocahontas. My firstborn (now in his late 30s) is named in part for a Mvskoke ancestor (born around 1835) who was, himself, named for the visionary Shawnee leader Tecumseh.  So naturally, when he was young, I was pleased to find a biography of Tecumseh for his reading level. I grabbed it off the shelf to read aloud to him one day when he was ill. At the end, the author lamented the death of Tecumseh and the end of his dream of Native unity. We lamented it, too. But then the writer closed with the words, "... And the Indian way of life was gone forever." 


Lessons learned or reinforced: 1) Mom, ALWAYS read a book through before you share it. 2) Fortunately, if you say, "Well, that's messed up and we know better", your children will probably be open to critiquing anti-Native assumptions and historical inaccuracy with you. And critique it we did.

But we shouldn't have had to. Parents and teachers of Native kids should be able to spontaneously share a book about Native people with kids, without having That Conversation. If the Minnesota Native American Lives series stays true to its mission (and it seems sure to), it will allow us to have that confidence and comfort, with well-researched true life stories, written from Indigenous perspectives. 

So, check out the book launch if you are able. And ask your library to purchase the Minnesota Native American Lives series, and read it yourself! Children, Native and non-Native, need those books.