One of the books in the popular Biff, Chip and Kipper series for children has been withdrawn from sale, with all remaining copies pulped by the publisher, Oxford University Press, after complaints that it was Islamophobic.
The series is written by Roderick Hunt and illustrated by Alex Brychta, and consists of more than 220 stories. The books were created in 1986, and have been used in schools for years to help children learn to read.
In The Blue Eye, which was published in 2001, Biff and her friend Wilf are magically transported to a different country, with an illustration showing what appears to be a Middle Eastern-looking marketplace. Background characters are shown wearing turbans, and one woman wears a niqab (a full face veil).
In the original version, Biff says that the pair should stick together because “people don’t seem very friendly” while Wilf calls the place “scary”.
Twitter users, including teachers, said they were concerned about the book’s depiction of people who looked Muslim. One said they thought it was “inappropriate” while another person, a primary school librarian, said they “wouldn’t want this to be used in schools”.
Children’s author Moniza Hussain said: “No one stopped to think that maybe it’s not a good idea to teach children Islamophobia.”
Oxford University Press had amended the book in 2012 so that, in the sentence about unfriendly people, Biff said she and Wilf should stay together because “it would be easy to lose each other in such a crowded place”.
But following complaints, copies of the book were pulled last month.
OUP, which estimates the series has been read by 30 million children around the world, said in a statement: “The book was taken out of print completely in March this year, following an independent review, and is no longer available to purchase. OUP destroyed its own remaining stock of the book, although a small number of copies may still remain in the supply chain; some older titles may still be available in libraries, or as secondhand copies.”
The publisher said it regularly reviewed and made changes to its list of titles to ensure they were “up-to-date, diverse, inclusive, and reflective of the world we live in” and that it had acted to remove products that were “no longer appropriate”.
It added that it continuously listened to feedback from customers, and took its responsibility to learn and improve seriously. “We are investing in our team’s development to create more inclusive content and are working with experts on all diversity and inclusion characteristics.”