US Books – The Guardian – Bad Little Children’s Books satire pulled following racism accusations

Collection of pastiche illustrations, which declares itself ‘shamelessly offensive’, has been withdrawn from sale after Twitter storm

Bad Little Children’s Books cover
Sick humour … Bad Little Children’s Books cover. Photograph: Abrams Books

Pseudonymous author Arthur C Gackley has instructed his publisher, Abrams Books to take Bad Little Children’s Books off sale after floods of complaints were posted online. Covers featured in the book include an illustration of a First Nation family with the title The Anti-Vaccine Kid and the Gift of the Navajo Blanket Riddled With Smallpox. Under the title Happy Burkaday Timmy! a girl in a hijab, ticking bomb in hand, chases a white boy. Other parodies feature children killing babies, vomiting and being propositioned by predatory uncles.

Though the cover states that the illustrations are meant to be “shamelessly offensive”, a Twitter storm led by Book Riot editor Kelly Jensen accused Gackley of crossing the line. On the latter site, she wrote: “Abrams, along with Gackley, and the editorial team behind this – who are all listed right in the copyright page of the book – should be ashamed to publish and promote this kind of racist dreck. We don’t live in a world where humour like this is acceptable.”

When a publisher simultaneously “supports diverse books” but then publishes harmful dreck, you know it’s all words & no meaning.

Announcing his decision to stop sales of the title, Gackley 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.”

In a statement issued on Monday night, the publisher said: “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.”

Gackley said he had deliberately tried to offend in the book in order “to shine the uncomfortable light of day on bigotry, prejudice, and hate; in effect, to refuse to let those pernicious and undermining sentiments stand”.

He blamed the current political climate in the US, which he said made it impossible to have the “kind of dialogue I had hoped to promote through the publication of Bad Little Children’s Books”. He added: “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.”

Support for the author and publisher had come from the National Coalition Against Censorship. As criticism mounted, the NCAC said: “We support Abrams’s 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.”

Bad Little Children is the latest of a wave of nostalgia-driven satires of children’s books from the 1950s and 1960s kickstarted a year ago by the artist Miriam Elia, who was threatened with legal action by Penguin Random House for her spoofs of Ladybird books. After Elia pulled her works, PRH released a bestselling series of their own. The artist responded by releasing an artwork called We Sue an Artist: The Dung Beetle Guide to Corporate Intimidation for ages 5+.