Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
UPDATE!: Scholastic has responded to fans concerns. Please see below…
Animorphs is a science fiction series of books for young adult readers, which was written by K.A. Applegate and published by Scholastic Inc. from 1996 to 2001. In May 2011, the series will be reprinted and re-released for a new generation, with two major changes. The book series’ trademark pop culture references will be changed to appeal to young readers, and the covers will be reissued with lenticular graphics–and new cover models representing the series’ five teen heroes.
On March 18th, Scholastic’s official website relaunched with new content, including images of the new cover models for the series. That same day, fans who grew up with the original series expressed concerns about the depiction of Animorphs‘s two characters of color, Marco and Cassie. They felt the model for the character of Marco did not represent the character as depicted in the original series.
In the original series, Marco is written as a Hispanic teen with “long brown hair and a dark complexion,” and the series’ book covers and promotional art reflected this description, where he would be depicted as having darker features than the series’ three white characters, Jake, Rachel, and Tobias.
In comparison, fans claim that the new cover model for Marco has lighter skin and lighter hair. Because the appearance of cover models influences how readers imagine characters, fans are advocating that Marco be depicted with a model who is clearly a person of color.
Scholastic could be making a marketing snafu here. Having more diverse cover models would encourage more children of color to pick up the books, especially young Hispanic and Latino readers. It’s a pretty big demographic to be sacrificing when the Hispanic character is already the last kid to get a book cover in the series (the book featuring Marco is fifth in the series.)
Members of the “Fans of Animorphs” Livejournal community organized a petition advocating that Scholastic change the Marco model for the ‘Animorphs’ 2011 re-release.
Here are some excerpts from comments left by signers of the petition:
“Marco’s half-Hispanic, and that should be celebrated, not hidden.” – Lori Dixon
“Throughout the series, Marco constantly references his Hispanic mother…I, too, have a Hispanic mother. I could relate to this character and the realism that this small connection lended, made me love the books all the more. It felt good that, I, a little Hispanic girl, had my people in books, in a series I loved, doing awesome and exciting things.” – Anonymous
“The impact a character of color on a young reader can’t be understated – children of color can find inspiration, self-confidence and pride in seeing their races reflected in popular culture. Animorphs has a diverse cast that speaks to many people; I hope Scholastic will choose to reflect this in their marketing and packaging.” – Emily Juneau
“I am also mixed-race, part Hispanic. I find it rather offensive that Marco, a character I looked up to when reading these books as a child, would be so whitewashed.” – Samantha Alva
“As someone who works in the children’s department of a bookstore, it is important to me to have visibly Hispanic characters on the front cover of books. I want to have them to offer to my Hispanic customers. Please change the cover model so my kids have characters that look like them.”-Erin McLaughlin
“My best friend is Hispanic without looking particularly so, and my initial reaction was that people were overreacting since I could see how the model could be Hispanic. But then somebody said something about the power of children having characters and role models that look like them. And I thought about how somebody who’s darker skinned would feel about the model looking the way he does in a society that already perpetuates the idea that lighter skin is more attractive no matter what your ethnicity.” – Stacy V.
Animorphs fans have also expressed concerns about the depiction of Cassie, who was written (and originally depicted) as a 13 year old black girl with short, curly hair. The new model is depicted with long, relaxed hair.
Fans raised these concerns with Animorphs co-author Michael Grant on Twitter. Grant responded by tweeting: “I just saw. Marco does look a wee bit anglo, doesn’t he? Sigh. They don’t really clear stuff with us. They barely talk to us…KA is out of town will discuss when she gets home. We do NOT approva (sic) of whitewashing.”
On behalf of Animorphs fans, The moderator of the “Fans of Animorphs” Livejournal community contacted Tracy van Straaten, Vice President of Trade Book Publicity, and Dave Levithan, the editor in charge of the Animorphs re-release, with her concerns.
The inclusion of two heroes of color in Animorphs was significant in the 1990s, where ongoing series like Goosebumps, Sweet Valley High, and The Babysitter’s Club featured ensembles of characters that were less diverse. Modern day children’s series, such as The 39 Clues and Harry Potter also feature predominantly white protagonists.
As a direct result, young readers of color don’t get the same opportunities to see people who look like them on book covers. When books with non-white protagonists are released, characters of color are often depicted with white cover models, or not depicted at all.
For example, in 2010, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers changed the covers on Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society children’s series after receiving complaints that a character described as having brown skin, appeared on the books’ covers as white. (See our article on Whitewashing in Young Adult literature to learn more.)
In 2009, YA publisher Bloomsbury Books came under fire for featuring white cover models on Liar by Justine Larbalestier and Magic Under Glass Jaclyn Dolamore, young adult books with protagonists of color. Fans successfully petitioned to have the covers for both books changed to feature women of color. At the time, Larbalestier wrote: “Sticking a white girl on the cover of a book about a brown girl is not merely inaccurate, it is part of a long history of marginalisaton and misrepresentation…young kids grow up thinking they are inferior because they see so few reflections of themselves.”
Given the number of young adult books featuring Hispanic and Latino characters remains very limited, fans of the Animorphs series are hoping their petition will encourage Scholastic to reconsider the cover model and reach out to young readers of color.
After sending the letter and petition to Scholastic’s trade books publicity division, Animorphs fans quickly received a positive response. Racebending.com also sent an email to Scholastic and received the same statement.
Thank you again for getting in touch with us about the Marco model for the cover of Animorphs #5: The Predator. We always appreciate hearing from Animorphs fans, and we want you to know that we have heard and share your concerns. We will, in fact, be using a different model for the actual books from the one that currently appears in our catalog and on the Animorphs web site. The first Marco book won’t be published until December 2011, so there is plenty of time to make sure we have a model who truly represents the description of the character in the books. (Please note that the website will be corrected as soon as the new photo shoot has been completed and the morph animation can be redone; in the meantime, the placeholder Marco will remain.)
While getting a new model was something we were already planning to do, we truly appreciate you advocacy on behalf of Marco. The support and passion of the Animorphs fan community has always been a crucial part of the success of the series, and we certainly want to be responsive when concerns arise.