I did a search for ‘monkey’ using the search tool for copyright free images on WordPress and these image came up amidst hundreds of monkey images.
I am continuing to research on this topic. There are so many ways to expand it, but what’s really important to me is that we move the talk forward. Instead of asking ‘when is it OK to have a monkey in a picture book, let’s ask ‘how do we stop the dehumanization of Black people, particularly through the association with simians?’ That’s the type of ‘diversity’ work the field of children’s literature should undertake rather than checking boxes and counting books. Let’s acknowledge that while one worldview dominates youth literature, it’s not the only one.
It perplexes me that there’s been so little written on these representations, so little on dehumanization in picture books in general. One thing I believe we can all agree on regardless of any affiliation or identity we maintain: children’s books are meant to spread US culture and value to our children.
What is it that we value?
I’ve notice wiggling among people who have been involved in creating books with monkeys and apes, claims of ‘it is just a monkey’.
It was to you.
To me, it isn’t.
I think we have to step away from binary thinking of who is right and who is wrong and consider the real possibility that anthropomorphic monkeys can be damaging. I can, and have, provided a multitude of correlating data but I cannot do the research that will verify what is my lived experience. There are social psychologists, anthropologists, and perhaps even linguists who can do that. Whiteness needs verifiable, quantifiable evidence, it doesn’t always appreciate ethnographic evidence.
Don’t artists already know that a critique of your work isn’t a critque of you? Examining these monkeys has nothing to do with creator’s intention. Rather, it considers how they are being read. It considers how the messages they convey are interpreted in the world.
There’s a very popular series in the UK called Noddy. It doesn’t seem to be too popular in the US, not many libraries carry it. The Guardian states that ” More than 200 million copies of his books have been sold in 40 languages since English children’s writer Enid Blyton snapped up the watercolour drawings by Dutch illustrator Harmsen Van der Beek of the perky elf with the tinkling bell hat.” I mention it here because for about 40 of those years, one of the popular characters in the book was Gilbert the Golliwog. If you don’t know golliwogs, hit the link. They are still popular in Europe, despite the fact that Black people see them as antiblack, racist minstrels. When Gilbert was removed from the book, you know what replace him? Martha Monkey.
There will always be those who don’t care or who will rush out and purchase these books in solidarity to their own nostalgia. I do hope that when you do rush out, you take the time to read the books. I do hope that if you’re an educator with an inking of concern for the children in your care, you stop using these books in your curriculum.
Readers know YA is my lane, and it’s one I’m relatively new to. I don’t have a long history with Curious George. I remember him more from the TV show than the books. I can tell you that back when I first started this research, when I was critiquing Voices in the Park and Monkey Not Ready for Kindergarten, that I rejected the notion that Curious George fit this mold. I’d read a few articles and had an idea what to look for in the books, and then I picked up the very first Curious George book in the series. Here’s a Youtube video of the book.
When I looked inside, I was appalled at blatant imperialism in that book.
Even if you agree with some or most of what I’m saying, pick up the books I’ve mentioned and read them for yourself. Don’t just reTweet or re-post my work, but engage with it. It’s lonely out here on this ledge.