One of the most widely circulated pages of this book is an Islamophobic image of a little girl in a head covering bringing a bomb-wrapped present for her friend. The title on this cover is "Happy Burkaday, Timmy" and is authored by a "Ben Laden."
Another one related to Islam, authored and illustrated by "A. Yatollah."
Other circulated pages are one about Navajo small pox blankets. (Debbie Reese wrote a piece about why this image is offensive on her American Indians in Children's Literature blog. You can find it here.)
And "creepy" uncle making a dick shadow puppet (because child abuse and grooming is so funny).
This was of note to many because the author of this compilation, Arthur C Gackley, is the pseudonym of illustrator Bob Staake, who is also the author of many children's books. Since the uproar over the book, Staake has wiped traces of Bad Little Children's Books from his website. However, they're still available through internet archives.
After receiving criticism from many, Abrams Books quickly released a statement, digging their feet in as they doubled-down on their support for the book, referring to the above offensive depictions of marginalized groups as simply "parody" and "satire."
Abrams recently published an adult humor book called Bad Little Children’s Books, a collection of patently offensive parodies of children’s book covers. 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.
Included with the above statement was a letter in support from the NCAC (National Coalition Against Censorship). However, their statement should be taken with a grain of salt because the President and CEO of Abrams Books, Michael Jacobs, is on the Board of Directors for the NCAC.
(Both the statement and letter can be found here in full.)
Following the above statement, people openly expressed their displeasure with Abrams Books, including top literary agent Barry Goldblatt, and authors Sarah MacLean, Angie Thomas, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jeff Zentner, and more.
@ABRAMSbooks I'm honestly disappointed that you all are crying "censorship." Critique of harmful material is not censorship. Ridiculous.— Angie Thomas (@acthomasbooks) December 3, 2016
how good satire works: you punch up. punching down at marginalized people with dangerous, wrong stereotypes? WHY WOULD YOU? @ABRAMSbooks— emery lord (@emerylord) December 3, 2016
1) Teachable moment. @ABRAMSbooks & author fail to understand: Real satire speaks to the balance of power, ie Swift's Modest Proposal.— Linda Sue Park (@LindaSuePark) December 5, 2016
2) Aiming barbs at the marginalized: NOT satire. It's callous, cruel, & funny only to (some of) those possessing the particular privilege.— Linda Sue Park (@LindaSuePark) December 5, 2016
Dear @ABRAMSbooks. Satire enlightens by encouraging thought. Ridicule, on the other hand, generates hostility by perpetuating stereotypes.— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) December 3, 2016
@ABRAMSbooks What kind of satirist doesn't understand how to punch up instead of down? Is it a bad one? I think it's a bad one.— Jae Goodsell (@JAGoodsell) December 3, 2016
Just as @ABRAMSbooks is free to publish racist jokes and call them satire, readers are free to say that's neither funny nor acceptable.— Bailey (@the_author_) December 3, 2016
I want to be proud of the name of the publisher sitting inside my books. Please, @ABRAMSbooks, step forward and acknowledge this mistake.— Cat Winters (@catwinters) December 4, 2016
Censorship: it's illegal to say the thing— Sarah Gailey (@gaileyfrey) December 3, 2016
Not censorship: people say you're a racist piece of shit for saying the thing@ABRAMSbooks
The SPLC has recorded 900+ incidents of hate following the election. Now is not the time to ask Muslims to laugh at themselves @ABRAMSbooks— Jeff Zentner (@jeffzentner) December 3, 2016
If there's no context in which the target of the satire is being held up to ridicule, @ABRAMSbooks, then there's no satire.— Kurt Busiek (@KurtBusiek) December 3, 2016
After continuing to recieve criticism, Abrams issued another statement. This statement, as many have noted, had a very "sorry not sorry" feel to it, with them stating that Bad Little Children’s Books, which they made sure to state has received "glowing reviews," "is a work of parody and satire and, as such, it is intentionally, openly, and provocatively offensive." However, despite evidence to the contrary, they insist that "[their] books and [their] publishing house have never nor will ever stand for bigotry or hatred." They insist that critics, who are simply internet users and not the government and can't force a multi-million dollar company to do anything, are censoring them.
We have a long record of publishing and promoting creative expression in many forms. 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.
The author's statement was also included alongside the above. In it, he states that he has "asked ABRAMS to cease publishing the book" because people who are upset by racism and other offensive imagery are simply misreading his work. Or not reading it at all, he notes. Staake/Gackley and his publisher seem to conveniently ignored that there were people who did pick it up and read it, which is how it came to the attention of the book community to begin with.
I have a copy. I read it. I didn't ask for an apology. I didn't ask that it be withdrawn. I spoke about it.— Debbie Reese (@debreese) December 5, 2016
BTW, @ABRAMSbooks, I didn't write about it out of context. I bought the garbage book & thought it trash from start to finish.— kelly jensen. (@veronikellymars) December 5, 2016
(Both Abrams's and Staake's final statements can be found here in full.)
Finally, although both their statements say that they are being censored because the work is being misread, Debbie Reese noted that before the Book Riot piece and the outrage that followed, Abrams (or at least the author) had been well aware of how offensive the book might be.
I'll be adding to this thread periodically. Here's a screen cap from 11/28/16. If it is fact (rather than more spoof), it tells us that... pic.twitter.com/FScNmwENuk— Debbie Reese (@debreese) December 4, 2016
Even as far back as September 7th, the author, under his real name, was posting about how this book was going to get banned. Under his psueodnym, Arthur Gackley was advertising it as something that was going to be banned.
... which (obviously) tells us Abrams knew it was going to be controversial. Here's a sample from giphy (open photo to see "buy the bk"). pic.twitter.com/3vPKjrl8zZ— Debbie Reese (@debreese) December 4, 2016
And in regards to people simply "misreading" their work, author KJ Charles has a response:
It is such a massive, obvious lie to market a book as "politically incorrect" and then claim you were doing social justice. @ABRAMSbooks— KJ Charles (@kj_charles) December 5, 2016
As some have noted, by crying "censorship," the publisher is making itself out to be a victim even though they'd been well aware of the offensiveness of their work. Some see it as a calculated risk on the part of Abrams, by portraying themselves as being attacked by the "PC/SJW mob."
I imagine someone out there calling this a witchhunt. Likely, a lot of sympathy for Staake. And Abrams. Seeing them as "injured" parties...— Debbie Reese (@debreese) December 4, 2016
This leaves a bad taste in my mouth, personally. The author himself is still claiming censorship and "falling onto a sword." https://t.co/wxkzWLQmX2— Sailor Mer(Kaye)ry (@gildedspine) December 5, 2016
Sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 / 12 / 13 / 14 / 15 / 16 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 21 / 22 / 23 / 24 / 25 / 26 / 27 / 28 / 29 / 30 / 31 / 32 / 33 / 34 / 35 / 36 / 37 / 38 / 39 / 40 / 41 / 42 / 43 / 44
Debbie Reese has a great thread on Twitter in which she compiled this information. I recommend perusing it if you want more information that I may have missed here. The Huffington Post also did a pretty good piece on this. As that piece notes, although the author and publisher claim that the bigotry in the book is trying to "poke fun at racial, religious and ethnic stereotypes, but in practice only [emphasizes] them."