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Children's book sparks controversy at Taipei elementary school

2018/09/14 21:17:04

Image taken from Linking Publishing's Facebook page

Taipei, Sept. 14 (CNA) A popular children's book authored by British comedian, actor and writer David Walliams sparked controversy after its Chinese edition was taken off the library shelf at an elementary school in Taipei early this week due to a parent's protest against the book's content, which is about a boy who wears a dress.

The Chinese edition of the book, titled "The Boy in the Dress," was published by Taipei-based Linking Publishing in 2015. Lately it was withdrawn from a list of recommended books at Long An Elementary School in Taipei after a parent criticized the book for encouraging cross-dressing and demanded that it be taken off the library shelf.

Long An stopped lending the book Wednesday, announcing in a school notice that due to the protest, the book will not be lent out until a review to the controversy has been conducted.

(Long An Elementary School)

The incident, however, drew a protest from the publisher, which released a statement Thursday expressing regret. "The book being taken off the shelf makes people's hearts ache as when the boy is expelled from his football team," Lingking said.

That same day, Taipei Heping Elementary School Principal Huang Chih-shun (黃志順) was seen in a Facebook post wearing a skirt while standing at the school's front gate in the morning along with his son, also dressed in a skirt, to greet the arriving students.

The post by a student's parent expressed support for Huang, who was praised for having the courage to ignore the stereotyped prejudice of society and criticism of people who hold different opinions.

Huang told CNA that his decision to wear a skirt was aimed at expressing his ideas on education. He declined to be interviewed, saying that "education is nothing but education, not news marketing."

On Friday, Long An resumed lending of the book and encouraged teachers to introduce the book to students or guide students to read it as a curriculum supplement.

Long An Principal Lee Shu-fang (李淑芳) told CNA that the school did not treat the book in a negative way, but thought "there could be some professional dialogue" about it.

The school had invited teachers, representatives of the parents' association and a professor of English education for children at the National Taipei University of Education for a meeting Thursday, at which the professor helped with a guide to the literary work from the United Kingdom, Lee said.

Since reinstating the book, most parents' feedback has been positive, she added.

However, some posts on social media by people advocating traditional family values suggested that children do not yet have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and should not be left alone to read books with controversial content.

There are also posts arguing that telling children who have not yet developed secondary sex characteristics about multiple genders could confuse them and create gender identity problems.

Gender expert Wu Chuan-yu (吳娟瑜), nevertheless, said children need care and attention in many different areas. "Blindfolding children will deprive them of the opportunity to feel empathy with other people," she said.

"The Boy in the Dress" was Walliams' first children's book and was published in 2008 in the United Kingdom, recommended for readers aged from eight to 12.

The book, carrying drawings by renowned illustrator Quentin Blake, depicts 12-year-old Dennis, who lives with his two-years-older brother John and his father, who divorced his mother when he was seven.

Dennis, fond of playing football, was a leading player in his school's football team. He missed his mother very much, who he could remember only through a photo of her wearing a yellow dress.

After he saw the same dress as one of his mother one day on the cover of Vogue, he bought the magazine and began developing an interest in fashion. Encouraged by his friend Lisa, he wore a skirt to school, which got him ostracised by the other children and kicked off the football team.

The story ends with Dennis' playing a game while wearing a skirt, and helping his teammate to victory.

The British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) adapted the story for television in 2014. Moreover, the Royal Shakespeare Company has also selected the work for its planned Christmas musical show in 2019, with original songs by popular British singer Robbie Williams.

(By Sabine Cheng, Liang Pei-chi, Chen Yen-chun, Tai Ya-chen and
Elizabeth Hsu)