In the Fall 2021, If Tigers Disappeared (the fifth and final installment of the If Animals Disappeared series)was completed. The copyedits, sensitivity reads, and five printers proof checks were finished. If Tigers Disappeared was ready to be printed in China. The publisher, Macmillan, prints most of their books in China which are then sent to America to be distributed for the North American trade market. Currently, If Tigers Disappeared, only has North American printing rights, which means it will be sold and distributed in North American English for the American market. People across the globe can get a copy of the North American book through independent bookstores and the World Wide Web – and it has not yet been translated into additional languages.
Two books in the series, If Sharks Disappeared and If Polar Bears Disappeared, have been translated into United Kingdom English and South Korean. This is all to say that, though printed in China, If Tigers Disappeared is not going to be distributed to any Asian markets until a foreign publisher buys the rights and the book is translated.
I am nervous to share this book’s publishing story. I am a children’s book author and illustrator who creates books about animals, the trophic cascade, and climate change. I am not an expert on Geopolitical boundaries or the politics of other countries!
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON THE POLITICS OF OTHER COUNTRIES, BOUNDARY DISPUTES, OR CENSORSHIP. I HAVE EDUCATED MYSELF ABOUT CHINESE PRINTING CENSORSHIP AND IT”S BOUNDARY CLAIMS. AS SUCH, I DOUBT I COULD EVER THOROUGHLY UNDERSTAND THE GLOBAL BORDER DISPUTES OF CHINA, BEYOND WHAT I AM SHARING IN THIS BLOG POST.
Back to printing… In the Fall if 2021, I was “asked” to remove Taiwan from the drawn map, or else the book would not be printed in China. I vacillated on what action to take for a day – I needed to gather more information. We have family friends living in Taiwan. We have dear friends who are Taiwanese-American immigrants. The Taiwan/China situation is both delicate and complicated.. There are differing opinions on this issue. As a white American woman, I felt I shouldn’t be the person making such a decision!
I slept on it, educated myself as best I could, and ultimately decided to make a compromise. I felt I had to because if I didn’t, then I would have to take a pay cut. If you know anything about the current publishing situation, mid-list run of the mill non-bestselling authors don’t make a lot of money… and frankly I was worried about how this would affect my earnings. I did so but with the compromise that I was free to talk about this unhappy action in the future whenever and however I felt like it should be shared.
Then a few months later, just as China is about to press print… The printer in China emailed my publisher with another request: edit out additional areas on the map. Now parts of India were requested to be removed before going to print. Either the areas were erased from the mapor they would not print the book!
My response was immediate and I didn’t have to sleep on it this time: No.
I told my publisher, “No!” This book needed another printer in another country and I wanted to return Taiwan to the map. I wanted my book restored and fully uncensored.
Did India feel different from Taiwan? It did not. They both felt absolutely indisputably incorrect to me. I got upset tummy bubbles after taking the name Taiwan out of the book, this next censor pushed me into a full body response coming from my gut. Both actions felt so very wrong. I cannot edit out land that may or may not be under dispute, just because China wants to claim that they own it.This is a book that is for children and is not a political prop. The idea that one country can censor factual information for a distinctly political agenda is alarming to me. Frankly, it should be alarming to all of us.
At the time, I didn’t really know anyone who had faced printer censorship from China. When I shared my story with publishing friends, they were appalled and angry! Now, eight months later, I know a handful of writers dealing with similar issues. From children’s picture books, to graphic novels, to prose texts… books containing any information that China does not approve of are being censored by China, regardless of the market they are for.
Luckily we were able to pivot and print If Tigers Disappeared in Thailand. The Thai printers were able to print it quickly with no issues and a minimal delay…
Censorship is frightening.
Across America there are sweeping library and school censorship cases for many different types of books. One of my books, Go With The Flow, has been placed under scrutiny and banned (more on that here). Any type of literary censorship is wrong -whether enforced by your local school board, angry parents pressuring librarians, or a huge country blocking information. None of these are okay and they all are different.
The information in each of my books has been researched and then written/illustrated by me, vetted by experts, fact checked by professionals, sensitivity read by cultural experts, copy edited by copy editors, and then, when everyone has reviewed the work, only then is it taken to print. The information in my book is a distilled version of a complex topic… It is simplified so that it can be told in a story format for children. But that does not mean the information is any less correct. There is always margin for error too, even with all those eyes on the book vetting it. If there are errors though, let them be honest mistakes and not intentional censorship. Especially intentional censorship from another country.
The final uncensored spreads in the book If Tigers Disappeared, below.
Thank you for reading!