I spent the better part of yesterday reading books by David Walliams. First I read the author's latest release, The World's Worst Parents. Then I read Billionaire Boy (a classic, according to my 9-year-old nephew) and, finally, The Boy In The Dress (pretty progressive, given that it was first published in 2008).
Walliams wasn't on my summer reading list, but neither was the lengthy Twitter thread by food writer Jack Monroe, who describes his books as "sneering classist fat-shaming grim nonsense".
Monroe began her now-viral thread by explaining that she had read some of her son's collection. What followed was a point-by-point attack on the author's stories and a good old-fashioned Twitter pile-on.
So yesterday I read, and read and read. I wanted to fact-check some of the claims Monroe made. I also wanted to offer an informed opinion.
Monroe makes some important points in her Twitter thread - we'll get to them - but first it's important to point out the many instances in which she's quoting out of context, posing false analogies, delivering half-truths and arguing by association.
Take her issue with the character Lord Granville Grandiose. Monroe cherry-picks the line "Granville didn't laugh exactly. If he found something funny, like the misfortune of poor people..." and says it prompted a conversation with her son "about how 'misfortune' and 'poverty' aren't punchlines for jokes". She fails to mention that Lord Grandiose is described as "an upper-class twit" who is clearly an age-appropriate archetype for elitist privilege.
According to Monroe, the character Miss Tutelage is a black woman whose "big frizzy hair" forms the punchline of a racist joke. According to publisher HarperCollins, who issued a statement defending Walliams on Tuesday, the character is in fact white.
Monroe later tweeted an illustration disputing this claim. Were she being fair, she would have posted all of the illustrations of Miss Tutelage. Instead, she chose the one in which the character's skin looks darkest and omitted the other half dozen or so in which the character, and her son, clearly look white.
Monroe doubled down on her accusations of racism by claiming that the school bully called this character Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The line actually reads: "He looks like that English teacher, Miss... er... Tutti-Frutti, no, I mean Miss... um Tutankhamun, Miss... erm... Archbishop Desmond Tutu!" It's not a racial jibe; it's a play on words with the prefix 'tu'.
She posits another example of racism in the story of Peter Pong - "the Dad with the stinkiest feet in the world".
Peter names his son Ping and Monroe "finds it difficult to believe that's not a throwback to (the now derided racist trope) Ting Tong", who was a character in Walliams' former sketch show Little Britain. She is equally horrified by the protagonist of Billionaire Boy, whose fantastical display of wealth includes everything from a rollercoaster in the back garden to a 24-hour personal masseuse.
Monroe points out that the masseuse is female (the only indication of gender is that Walliams didn't use the term 'masseur') and says it puts women "in the same category of desirability as having trainers, a television, and popcorn. Inanimate. Disposable. An object. A plaything".
I struggled to see how this phrase objectifies women. However, I gasped when Monroe highlighted the references to Page 3 girls in the same book.
At first I imagined uncomfortable conversations as children asked their parents what a Page 3 girl is, but then I considered the average age of first exposure to pornography.
Experts are advising parents to start that conversation with children earlier than ever, and I couldn't think of a better, and less awkward, way in.
However, Monroe did make some compelling cases for change. Describing a character with glasses as "four-eyes" and others as fat isn't helpful and she's right - it could promote bullying. Yet she can't separate Walliams from his earlier work on Little Britain (for which he has since apologised).
There are those who have read the books and agree with her. Yet there are many more who have joined the cancel-culture mob because they read a seemingly cogent diatribe on Twitter.
If you're in that cohort, remember to read the books and form your own opinion before you join the pile-on. Or at the very least, ask your children what they think.