In March of 2021, a Korean American father reached out to Scholastic about concerns he had about racist imagery and negative stereotypes in Dav Pilkey’s 2010 book The Adventures of Ook and Gluk. After several conversations between the father, Dav Pilkey, and Scholastic, on Monday, March 22, 2021, Scholastic halted distribution of The Adventures of Ook and Gluk with support from Pilkey.
The graphic novel is written and illustrated by characters from Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” series, and is the story of Ook and Gluk, two cavepeople who live in the fictional town of Caveland, Ohio, in 500,001 B.C. In the book, Ook and Gluk travel through time to the year 2222, where they meet Master Wong, a martial arts instructor who teaches them kung fu.
The author issued a letter of apology via his YouTube channel, acknowledging that his use of stereotypes when it came to the character of Master Wong, kung fu, and Chinese philosophy amounted to “passive racism.” In his apology, Pilkey stated that he had “intended to showcase diversity, equality and nonviolent conflict resolution” with the book, but he had fallen short of these goals.
Racial stereotypes and passive racism are harmful to all children because it perpetuates the narrative that this is normal for people to be treated this way. It is important for all children to see people of color represented accurately, without racist misinformation, because it fosters positive self-image and reduces the chance that children will internalize harmful stereotypes.
Scholastic has vowed that they will publish books that represent a diverse society, and the library will continue its journey to learn about the importance of inclusive collections.
Youth Services staff have curated a list of graphic novels, illustrated chapter books, and picture books that accurately reflect the diversity of Asian American lives and experiences. Please check the list to place holds and learn more.
If you would like to read more information on how to talk to children about racism in books and media see here.