It is hard to believe that anyone looking at the Monkey early childhood book series by Marc Brown did not see the racist stereotypes it perpetuates. However, the reviewers gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up when it was first released in 2015, libraries have stocked the book, and number three in the series was released in late 2017.
Edith Campbell, a librarian and blogger who is a member of the See What We See (SWWS) coalition, came across the book last week. She shared the images with the SWWS coalition members who were all horrified. As Campbell explains in her review:
Disturbing to me and others with whom I’ve shared the cover of this book is the fact that it was ever published with this anthropomorphic image that too closely resembles an African American child. And, this is the third book in the series. That no reviewer saw any problems with this book.
A very brief history on how monkeys have been associated with people of African descent over time: “A hateful association between Blacks and monkeys or apes was yet another way that the antebellum South justified slavery.”
Read and share Campbell’s full review of Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten to help others “see what we see.” We hope you will agree that Knopf should discontinue publication of the Monkey book series.
Two other reviews by Campbell have led publishers to take corrective action. Her critical review of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, along with a national campaign, led to Scholastic recalling the book soon after it was published. Her critical review of the advance copy of The Bad Mood and the Stick led to the publisher thanking Campbell and revising the images before the book was released.
This year, Teaching for Change posted a critical review of one of the images in the otherwise beautiful book by Junot Diaz called Islandborn. The publisher tossed the pre-publication stock and rushed out a new version in advance of the book release. The new image is not perfect, but it is an improvement.
We hope Knopf (an imprint of Penguin Random House), the publisher of the Monkey series, follows suit and takes action soon.
However, revising or pulling selected books is not enough. The Monkey book series is one of countless examples of why the demographics and priorities of the publishing industry need to change. The publishers need authors and editors who can proactively produce books with healthy mirrors and windows for all children. The Lee & Low report on the diversity in publishing documents the whiteness of the industry. The publishing houses and major journals need to be staffed with people who “see what we see.”
Please alert us if you take action about the Monkey series and/or you find other problematic books that have slipped onto the shelves without critique. Also, check out the See What We See database of children’s book reviews and find recommended children’s books on lists at Social Justice Books.