Scholastic says it will stop distributing a fan-fiction Minecraft book that compares an Indian character's name to a fart.
A Toronto mother tweeted a photo of a page in Diary of a Minecraft Zombie, accusing the book of “modelling racist behaviour for my kids.”
‘I was really troubled by the idea that my children, who have long and complicated names, might end up reading something like this.' – Sailaja Krishnamurti, St. Mary's University
In the passage, the protagonist's mom tells him he's about to room up with foreign exchange student Rajit Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta — an Indian name also famous for being the longest railway station name in India.
“It sounded like my mom farted,” the boy reacts.
When Halifax's Sailaja Krishnamurti first came across the passage on Twitter, she became concerned about her own kids.
“Certainly my son loves to play Minecraft, and they're of an age where they could be reading on their own without my looking over their shoulder,” Krishnamurti told As It Happens host Carol Off.
Krishnamurti is a religious studies professor at St. Mary's University in Halifax who studies representation of South Asian culture in children's literature.
“And so I was really troubled by the idea that my children, who have long and complicated names, might end up reading something like this on their own and not really know how to process how that might make them feel.”
The book, which has no named author, is part of the Zack Zombie series, described online as “an original work of fan fiction which is not sanctioned nor approved by the makers of Minecraft.” It is sold online via Amazon, and distributed through Scholastic.
Contacted for comment, Scholastic at first denied responsibility for the book's content, noting it was not published in-house, but rather by a company called Herobrine Books.
‘We are grateful for letting us know about this issue and want to apologize for any offence or harm it may have caused anyone.' – Nicole Zaccagnini, White Water Agency
However, the company later responded to say it would no longer be shipping the book.
“Our partnership with Canadian schools and families is a privilege, and one that we take very seriously,” Scholastic told As It Happens in an email.
“The author has been made aware of your comments and is deeply troubled that the text has been construed as racist, as this was never intended, and he is eager to make editorial changes to be sure the text is corrected. Further on in the story, the character recognizes and apologizes for his bad behaviour and the two characters become friends, with Zombie learning a valuable lesson in friendship, diversity and acceptance. ”
But Krishnamurti said the story's positive ending “doesn't excuse the racism that's being enacted right at the start of the book.”
Nicole Zaccagnini, publicist for the Herobrine series, apologized for the passage and told As It Happens they have “already made steps to remove the offending statements from our book so that no one will be hurt by this in any way.”
“We are grateful for letting us know about this issue and want to apologize for any offence or harm it may have caused anyone,” Zaccagnini, an account executive at the public relations firm White Water Agency, said in an email.
“We believe that all cultures, religions and groups in which people identify with are all special in the building blocks of our society.”
Krishnamurti, meanwhile, said this whole debacle just shows the importance of diversity in children's literature.
“I think it's an instructive moment for all of us as parents and as people who are thinking about children's literature to really advocate for more diverse representations in the books our children are reading.”