Apr 26, 2012

What Color Are Burdocks?

What Color are Burdocks 

Written and Illustrated by: Joel Assogba

Published by: L.I.Daddy Publishing

Published: November 2004

Recently The Japan Times published a letter that talked about a parent's response to a book his children read called にんじんがあかいわけ (The Reason Carrots are Red, by Miyoko Matsutani and Eizo Hirayama) which had racist overtones. He was so incensed he published his own book as a protest.

I was intrigued so I borrowed the offending book from the library and bought a copy of the father's book. 

The Reason Carrots are Red is a simple story about three root veggies who take a hot Japanese bath together. The daikon radish scrubs himself clean and white, the carrot loves it so much he can't come out and gets scalded red, and the burdock doesn't like the heat so he runs out of the path quick without washing. This is an old Japanese folk tale to explain the colours of these three long root veggies. With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to see how this has a message that is uncomfortably close to racial judgment, and how it would make the father, Joel Assogba, upset.

What would your response be if your child brought home a book like this? Like Assogba, my first reaction might be to call the publisher. When he didn't get the response he wanted, he decided to write his own book as a response, and set up a publishing company to do so.

The book he wrote is called What Color are Burdocks? It features a number of the same vegetables who are given a bath by some children. When the children try to clean up the vegetables they harvest, they think the burdock are still dirty because they are dark. The burdocks tell the children that this is their natural color and then some unknown force agrees with them. Then the veggies hold hands and dance in a circle singing "All the colors in the world are equally beautiful."

This is a wonderful sentiment. The message is great and it's interesting that he just changed the folk tale ending while keeping the beginning. It's so amazing that a father would go to this length to send a message to his children and to others who might read the original book. Books have been a form of protest as long as they are around, and it's great that Assogba has written an alternative story for children of the same target age group as the original children.

The book itself is far from professional. There are capitalization problems and the story is choppy. Even the English title is not something I would choose, and I've spent a few days wondering how it could be improved (What Colors are Burdocks? The Burdock's Color is? - I'm still not sure!). There is a problem with perspective as well, as hands aren't in natural places or the legs are off. All this makes it more endearing, like an elementary student who gives his mother a homemade book for Mother's Day. The homemade aspect, the passion Assogba put in, is its most appealing trait.

I'm also rather fond of the inside cover art, with vegetable people that have very cool earrings.

The question remains, what else should be done when we see books that have inappropriate messages? Personally I like to use them as teaching tools, I don't like to see books banned. A great elementary core curriculum could be made out of the original book. Empathy is taught in Japanese schools as a value to some extent, and if kids are going to read this book, why not use it to make them think about the message that "brown is dirty" sends? It would be great if the publisher had a teacher prepare a recommended lesson they could put on their website and as an insert in the books.

What else should be done?


  1. Hello Perogyo-san,
    Thank you for taking your precious time to write a piece about my book. But (frankly), there's a part of your review that flips me off a little bit:

    "The book itself is far from professional. There are capitalization problems and the story is choppy. Even the English title is not something I would choose, and I've spent a few days wondering how it could be improved (What Colors are Burdocks? The Burdock's Color is? - I'm still not sure!)."

    I am an artist and a writer, and I use my FREEDOM and my CREATIVITY to make FLASHY illustrations, and write not "choppy," but FUNKY (just like combining elements of jazz, blues, and soul and characterized by syncopated rhythm and a heavy, repetitive bass line) stories to attract the attention of children, and send them valuable messages that would help them become compassionate adults.

    I didn't care much CAPITALIZATION problems and stuff(the structure and form), 'cause I was not writing a "grammar" book (LOL). The aim of the book was to send a STRONG message of "Respect for NATURAL DIFFERENCES."

    Oh, about the title, check the back of the book and you will see "Black and Beautiful!" It's the answer to the question "What Color are Burdocks?"

    What does "professional" mean in this contest?
    And concerning your point of view; "...hands aren't in natural places or the legs are off." I did it on purpose, it is not because I can't draw things properly. BTW, have you seen some of Picasso's stuff? Would you say they are far from being professional!? As an artist, I have the freedom of drawing the way I like...

    Check out the poster I have published to promote anti-bullying:

    And some of my articles in The Japan Times ST:

    Carpe diem!

  2. Hey Perogie & Gyoza!
    I am waiting for your reply.
    Joel Assogba

  3. I haven't read this book, and frankly won't be reading it. Not because of your review, which I believe is overall a favorable one. I just totally see your point about "unprofessional" thanks to the above comments the author of this book has posted on this blog. No professional author stalks reviewers of their material and attempts to explain or justify their work then demands a person respond to them. A review of a book is just that, a review. It is someone's personal feelings and opinions about a piece of work. Nothing is going to be liked and appreciated by everyone. To think that everyone should love something is childish. To believe that your work is perfect and above any sort of criticism is beyond arrogant. Unprofessional indeed!

    1. Sherry!
      1)I do not beg anyone to read my book.
      2)I do not beg anyone to write a review about my book.
      3)Don't "stick your nose" into a problem that does not concern you.

      And don't insult me "childish," and label me as a "Stalker," and stuff... You are a very impolite and rude woman.
      Stay away from me. I did not address the message to you, but to the person who wrote the review. You are trying to get yourself into trouble.

      You should Keep Quiet! Period.

  4. Will.Not.Read (thanks to these comments!)

    And the anti-bullying poster is equally uh.. special.
    Using MS Paint does not make one an artist. Nor does it make said "art" bearable to look at.

  5. I see. Basically anyone who doesn't agree with you should shut up. And offering a viewpoint is seen as "sticking your nose" in someone else's business. Like a lot of people, I was so happy to see the article about your book in the Japan Times. I shared it on my Facebook page and thought what a great person and father you must be to care so much how all our children are treated and perceived here in Japan. But I have to agree with Sherry; published authors are subject to reviews, and I wish you would step back and be more peaceful in your approach to people. It also sounds like you are threatening Sherry. Doesn't your attitude and violent language go against the very idea you have promoted in your book? Please do not expect people to shut up and be quiet just because you disagree with them.

    1. Why are you all trying to jump in and bash me?
      Nicole, I do not need your help in promoting
      my book. Cut the article off your facebook wall. Period.
      You don't even know me, and even if you do
      let me BE ME, some already called me ARrOgaNT and stuff(May God bless them for their judgment!)

      Judge Not!
      (Bob Marley)

      Don't you look at me so smug
      And say I'm going bad.
      Who are you to judge me
      And the life that I live?
      I know that I'm not perfect
      And that I don't claim to be.
      So before you point your fingers,
      Be sure your hands are clean.

      Judge not
      Before you judge yourself.
      Judge not
      If you're not ready for judgement. Woah oh oh!

      The road of life is ROCKY
      And you may stumble too.
      So while you talk about me,
      someone else is judging you.

      (Saxophone solo)

      Judge not
      Before you judge yourself.
      Judge not
      If you're not ready for judgement. Woah oh oh!

      The road of life is rocky
      And you may stumble too.
      So while you talk about me
      Someone else is judging you,
      Someone else is judging you,
      Someone else is judging you,
      Someone else is judging you,
      Someone else is judging you.

  6. For the time being I have enabled comment moderation. As this is a review of a children's book, children may access this site, and I expect that the discussion remain something that children can read.

    Threats are in no way acceptable. In future they will be deleted.

    I do appreciate all of your civil comments, I love to discuss children's books and whether or not they need to be grammatically correct is definitely an important discussion. But we can do that civilly.

  7. To You All:

    “If you don't like someone's story, write your own.”
    ― Chinua Achebe

    I didn't like Miyoko Matsutani's story, I wrote mine.
    You don't like mine. FINE! Just go ahead and write yours.
    I can't understand people who are just there to point out "little"
    parts of someone's WORK (story and painting), but who are
    not capable of producing their own ones...

    If you think you can do better, why don't you publish a story
    that would "correct" mine?

    I am quite happy with my work,
    and have got great support from hundreds of thousands
    of kindhearted people all around the world. I have got
    great reviews from PROFESSIONAL writers and educators
    in Japan, Canada, England, Switzerland, Germany and Aussie.

    Have you all ever been teased, ridiculed and taunted because you are dark-skinned?
    Have your children been called by a bunch of racists kids "Black and dirty as the burdocks?"
    Oh, please! Don't hurt me more... When it comes up to denounce "Bigotry," I don't go quietly, I don't put "water in my wine," I don't do any soft talk, I go straight and speak the TRUTH (Malcom X & Louis Farrakhan's Style...) Even Martin Luther King, Jr. who preached Nonviolence,
    SPOKE UP STRAIGHT against Bigotry. I am ready to die for my rights and my children's rights.
    I don't have much time to waste exchanging ideas with you, I rather discuss with people who bring me something positive to talk about. Have a good one!

    "A man who won't die for something is not fit to live." (MLK, Jr.)

  8. To Perogyo,

    Regarding children's books and correct grammar/usage, I tend to be old school on this one: technical errors such as non-standard capitalization impede clarity, no matter how young the readers are.

  9. I also read about this in the Japan Times and then read the review here {which at the time still made me want to check the book out} but now, after seeing how the author has come here and gone all "WHACKO" on the comments I think I would rather put my money elsewhere and teach my children about compassion for differences myself.

    The author above {Joel Asogbba} talks about judging- which we all do {unfortunately}- as if we are only judging him and he is not judging the review and its author. Mr Asogbba you are offended that you are getting unfavourable comments here despite the fact you talked about the freedom you have when it comes to writing and illustrating your own books however you are not respecting others freedom of opinion and speech which makes it hard for others to respect you as an author and as a person.

  10. Perogyo, I haven't read either of the books, but I felt that your review of "What Color are Burdocks" to be fair and balanced and very flattering. I don't really understand what the hoopla is all about.

  11. Well clearly someone doesnt understand what a book review is. And seriously, must we throw the racist card out regarding this review and comments. You, sir, do not know any of us or what we have of have not been through ourselves. You have no knowledge about us at all. We are not questioning the color of your skin or your exexperience in life. We are calling into question your professionalism in handling criticism of your book. And I think you have proven our point very clearly. Yes, I used the terms "childish" and "arrogant" because guess what? I get to have an opinion and express that opinion as well. Are you unfamiliar with just how blog comments and the Internet work? By the way, you do not have any I formation about what any of us may or may not have written or published ourselves. Anyone can self publish anything they want. It doesnt mean it's "art.". And it certainly doesn't mean people can't express their opinion about it or you as an "artist.". If you can't take honest opinions about your work then don't put it out for the public to see. Not everyone has to like you or your work. And and I don't care that you think I am "rude and impolite." See how it's done? You express your opinion, and I could not care less because you are no one to me. However, your threats to me are another matter! Very interesting someone who claims to be working to stop bullying is trying to bully me into shutting up.

  12. Joel, you seem to be a bit of a quotes man so this one is for you;

    "Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing" -Aristotle

    You re-wrote a book and illustrated it. If you were not looking for any criticism (which in all fairness was only constructive) You should not have set foot into the world of writing. Clearly you cannot handle it.

    Would also like to mention that your message of "Respect for NATURAL DIFFERENCES" was lost the moment you were unable to respect the natural differences in opinions of other people and in a very unprofessional manner, attacked someone for their opinion and review. No one is criticising what your book is about, merely discussing the lack of professionalism you seem to have (compared to seasoned authors)

    On account of your comments here, I have come to the conclusion that anything you write is not for me or my children and threatening and insulting a woman and then pulling out the race card is a little 50's for my taste.You need to learn that the whole world isn't after you and not everyone cares about the color of your skin. The only one that does seem to care about that is you from what I can see...

  13. Many artist will tell you that critiques are welcomed because it will help push your piece to become the best it can be. Prefessionals in the illustrated, web media/design, and animated world gets critiqued to find out what is working and what is not and try to fix it so it would. So it is a time to keep the mouth shut and the ears open.
    The way the author has responed to the critiques show how un-prefessional he is. I have met a lot of people like this in art school and they would drop out because they couldnt take it and or get failing grades.
    This review has also showed me that we are still in need of a book to teach our kids about loving themselves even though they maybe different in a culture that is all about being the same. I guess that will be my next project and I will welcome all the comments; good and bad.

  14. If the author, has, as he claims, the support of hundreds of thousands of people, including educators, one slightly negative review shouldn't be such a hardship.

    Correct spelling is the absolute minimum indicator of quality writing, from college term papers to published literature. If the book indeed has spelling errors, that is a fault and yes, it does look unprofessional. I do translating and proof-reading freelance, and everything that goes out with my name on it is checked for errors several times. 'I wasn't writing a grammar book' is no excuse for spelling mistakes in a book you want used in schools...

    Martin Luther King and Bob Marley are most likely rolling in their graves at being quoted by someone who orders people to 'shut up' and makes threats when someone doesn't agree with him. You have neither the tolerance of MLK nor the peaceful outlook of Marley. Bigotry deserves to be shouted down, yes, but a book review pointing out legitimate errors in your work (while praising it overall) is not bigotry. Using the fact that you've been the object of racist conduct and remarks has nothing to do with the review, and it's dishonest of you to claim racial bias in this situation.

    'Don't judge' you? 'Judge not, before you judge yourself? Take your own advice, sir. In calling people nasty names, you are judging, are you not?? That beam in your eye doesn't bother you?

  15. "Let’s not confound “criticism” with “badmouthing.” BADMOUTHING is charging falsely or with malicious intent; attacking the good name and reputation of someone, but CRITICISM is the practice of judging the merits and faults of something or someone in an intelligible (or articulate) way. After all, when the criticism is valid, it must be made by all means necessary, because it is the only way we can make the world a better place to live."

    wise words.


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