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HarperCollins Children’s Books in the UK is to remove a story from David Walliams’ The World’s Worst Children after it was accused of using “harmful stereotypes” in its depiction of a Chinse boy. The new edition of the book will be published in March 2022 without the story ‘Brian Wong, Who Was Never, Ever Wrong’. The illustration of Wong is on the left of the cover.
The move by the publisher came after a meeting with the podcaster, activist and writer Georgie Ma, who bills herself ‘@chinesechippygirl’ on Instagram. She said: “’Wong’ and ‘wrong’ are two words that are commonly used in playgrounds to pick on someone if their surname is Wong. Even just the way Brian has been illustrated. He wears glasses, he looks like a nerd, he’s got small eyes… they’re all harmful stereotypes. The overall character plays on the model minority myth where Chinese people are nerdy, swotty and good at maths, we’re not confrontational and we’re high achievers. It was just really disappointing to read about that. Personally for me, because I have a toddler, I don’t want her being absorbed in these stories where Chinese culture is misrepresented.”
HarperCollins said: “In consultation with our author and illustrator we can confirm that a new story will be written to replace ‘Brian Wong’ in future editions of The World’s Worst Children. The update will be scheduled at the next reprint as part of an ongoing commitment to regularly reviewing content.”
Ma, who is British born Chinese, said she was “grateful” to the publisher for “listening and taking action”, but she urged writers to take great care when using characters from other cultures and communities, to consult with those communities and to use sensitivity readers.
The incident has echoes of the debate over the novel American Dirt in the States when its author, Jeanine Cummins , was criticized for her depiction of Mexican migrants. More recently, UK publisher Picador was forced to withdraw Kate Clanchy’s Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me because of its depictions of non-white children. The book is now being re-written.
Ma added: “I feel there are more stories within [Walliams’] book that need reviewing, but this is just the start… I want this to be a learning for all authors who write stories based on marginalised communities, to do their research and seek guidance such as sensitivity reads. Especially if they are not from that community.
“I think it’s great that authors and illustrators want to do books on different cultures. But if they’re not from that background, they really need to consult those communities and do their own research to represent them fairly.”
Ma said that there had been an increased in hate crime on the East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) community since the coronavirus pandemic, and a number of high-profile incidents where the ESEA community has been stereotyped or merged into one giant community. Speaking about her action on Walliams’ book, she added: “I’m not going to get sad or angry about it, I’m going to take action and speak up. I want other people to realise that this story is inappropriate, and it doesn’t represent the ESEA community fairly.”