This post has been updated and reframed to remove editorializing about the ABRAMS decision.
ABRAMS Books has ceased publication of Bad Little Children’s Books.
Originally published earlier this year, the collection offers parodies of famous children’s book covers from pseudonymous author Arthur C. Gackley. Although positively reviewed by critics, the book has come under fire from some for being offensive. On Sunday, Abrams Books issued a statement explaining the thinking behind the book, but still decided to cancel further publication per a request from the unnamed author.
“When first released in September 2016, Bad Little Children’s Books received glowing reviews,” ABRAMS noted in a statement, citing reviews from The Huffington Post, Washington Post, and other publications. “We, and the book’s author, are deeply saddened that Bad Little Children’s Books is being depicted inaccurately on social media. We also hear the concerns.”
The publishing house added, it has “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.”
The statement continued, “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.”
As noted in the statement, however, “faced with the misperceived message of the book, we are respecting the author’s request.”
Read the full statement from the Bad Little Children’s Books author below.
When I used the pseudonym of the fictitious “Arthur C. Gackley” to write the adult satire book, Bad Little Children’s Books, published by ABRAMS, I did so by following a long tradition of parody. The book is a collection of more than 120 over-the-top parodies of seemingly innocent children’s book covers, each mashed up in a manner that makes them unabashedly un-PC, rude, tasteless, inappropriate—or all the above.
By channeling the Archie Bunker-esque character of Gackley (his bio says he vanished some thirty-eight years ago), I was clearly commenting on the ridiculousness of biases, stereotypes, and intolerance through the prism of questionable taste and dark humor. This is nothing new—MAD Magazine, Richard Pryor, The Onion, Amy Schumer, The Simpsons, Dave Chapelle, National Lampoon, and South Park are just a few of the parodists, satirists, and social commentators using humor as their weapon to skewer harmful attitudes and biases.
While reviews of Bad Little Children’s Books have been overwhelmingly positive, I understand that one can become personally offended by any of the parodies (heck, even I find them offensive). The book is an “equal opportunity offender,” if you will. This was my intention and, as a longtime supporter of liberal politics throughout my more than forty-year career as an illustrator, writer, and humorist, the fictitious character of Gackley couldn’t be more different than me. The artistic statement that I tried to make in the book is to offend and, by doing so, to shine the uncomfortable light of day on bigotry, prejudice, and hate; in effect, to refuse to let those pernicious and undermining sentiments stand. That’s been part of my life’s work and what I hoped to achieve with this book.
Some people have asked ABRAMS to ban the book and issue an apology for publishing it in the first place. I suspect that they’ve neither seen nor read the satirical work in its entirety or, as likely, that the current political climate in the United States has made the kind of dialogue I had hoped to promote through the publication of Bad Little Children’s Books impossible. 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.
The National Coalition Against Censorship summed it up best in their letter of support of the book, when they wrote, “We support ABRAMS’ 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. After all, anyone who doesn’t like the book doesn’t have to buy it.”
Satire can be ugly, but the dictionary defines it more specifically as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”
However, 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.