‘Kung-Fu Cavemen’ are no more
Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey is the latest author to pull a book for racist depictions.
Pilkey announced with his publisher, Scholastic Press, that publication of The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen From the Future would cease. The 2010 book spent 33 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The move comes after a New York father of two launched a Change.org petition citing “racist imagery and stereotypical tropes.”
In a statement published March 25 on YouTube, Pilkey apologized for the depictions and pledged to donate his advance and royalties from the title’s sales to We Need Diverse Books and organizations supporting Asian Americans.
“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,” Pilkey said in his statement. “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.”
Scholastic also posted an apology on its website, saying that in addition to halting publication, it would contact retailers to seek a return of all inventory and reach out to librarians and schools to inform them of its decision. The company’s book-fair division operates more than 160,000 school fairs each year in all 50 states and several countries.
“Throughout our 100 year history, we have learned that trust must be won every day by total vigilance,” the statement reads.
Billy Kim, the Korean-American father of two avid young Pilkey fans, said in his petition that his family borrowed the Ook and Gluk book from their local library. The book is a spin-off of Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series, ostensibly written by the main characters of that story.
After reading it, he said, “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).”
Kim said he started the petition after his initial reach-outs to Scholastic did not produce a response.
“Every child who has read this book has been conditioned to accept this racist imagery as ‘okay’ or even funny,” he wrote. “It is this type of passive racism that has contributed to the continued hate and prejudice experienced by Asian Americans on a daily basis.”
Kim’s comments follow a months-long spike in reported hate crimes against Asian Americans, including the March 16 shooting of several Asian women at Atlanta-area spas.
It also comes weeks after Seuss Enterprises’ announcement that it would no longer publish six of Seuss’ titles due to anti-Asian, anti-Black and other racist images. That move prompted many conservatives to spend days defending all of Seuss’ work, highlighting many popular titles that were not, in fact, among those removed from circulation. Rep. John Joyce, R-Pa., even introduced the catchily named Guarding Readers’ Independence and Choice, or GRINCH, Act.
No such outcry immediately brewed to defend Ook and Gluk. Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books are perennial bestsellers, with more than 90 million books in print, according to Scholastic. The series also is a fixture on the American Library Association’s annual banned book list, after complaints that the graphic novels’ prank-loving young protagonists encourage disruptive behavior, and that one title featured a marriage between two men.