Education Ministry working group ‘concerned’ about children’s books

A working group set up by the Ministry of Education to investigate a series of illustrated children’s books about the pro-democracy movement said that five out of the 8-book series are likely to lead to violence in children.

"Nitan Wad Wang" ("Dream of Hope Tales") is a series of illustrated children's book about social movement, freedom, and equality

Thai PBS reported that according to Darunwan Chanphiphatanachai, spokesperson for the Deputy Education Minister, the working group found that five out of the eight books in the “Nithan Wad Wang” series (“Dream of Hope Tales”) might condition young people towards using violence to resolve conflict.

The five books included an illustrated biography of historian and dissident writer Jit Phumisak; “The Adventure of Little Duck,” an illustrated book by cartoonist Sa-ard about a yellow duck adventuring and fighting for democracy; “Mom, where are you going?,” which tells the story of the 2020 pro-democracy protests through the eyes of actor-turned-activist Inthira Charoenpura’s cat; “The Call of the Bird,” an illustrated book containing pictures of various birds and telling stories about freedom; and “10 Ratsadorn” (“10 People”), which contains illustrations of various protest leaders, such as Anon Nampa, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Panupong Jadnok.

The working group also claimed that the five books have no content and contained no text, which they said is concerning as children might want to imitate the behaviour shown in the books, because young children are not able to distinguish reality from fantasy. The working group also said that they would like parents and teachers to look out for their children.

In fact, “10 Ratsadorn” is the only book in the series which consists purely of illustrations. Every other volume contains a poem, many of which are written by the well-known children’s book writer and primary school teacher Srisamorn Soffer, which narrates the stories throughout the book.

"Mom, where are you going?" tells the story of the 2020 pro-democracy protests through the eyes of actor-turned-activist Inthira Charoenpura’s cat. The book is illustrated by illustrator Phetladda Kaeochin, which is accompanied by a poem by Srisamorn Soffer. Each page also contains a note from Inthira to her cat. 

Nevertheless, the working group said that they found three of the books beneficial to children: “Who has no head?” which aims to teach children about equality; “Hack! Hack! The Fire Dragon,” a story about the fight against a fire-breathing dragon attacking an indigenous village written by activist Sombat Boonngamanong; and “Children Have Dreams,” a ‘Where’s Wally?’-style picture book about what young people dream they want the world to be.

Darunwan said that the working group was “without any bias” and used “academic principles” in their investigation. She also said that they are not responsible in “ruling whether it is right or wrong, but put the benefits for children and young people first.”

“Children Have Dreams” is a ‘Where’s Wally?’-style picture book about what young people dream they want the world to be. 

Following a report on 27 September that Deputy Education Minister Kalaya Sophonpanich had formed a working group to investigate the series, claiming that the books might mislead children, the series sold out within three days. The publisher said that there is currently no plan for a re-print.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB) summoned the publisher of the series in for a meeting, claiming that they had received a request for a probe into whether selling books on a Facebook page violates the 2002 Direct Sales and Direct Marketing Act.

Pornchai (last name withheld), one of the team behind the series, went to meet with an OCPB officer on Tuesday (12 October), along with lawyer Pawinee Chumsri. However, the official prohibited our reporter from observing the meeting.

Pornchai said following the meeting with the officer that he was questioned about how the books were made and delivered to customers, without mentioning the content of the books. Nevertheless, he thinks that there is likely to be other laws related to the content of the books, as the officer raised concerns about the content of some of the volumes.

He said that the officer told him that he was summoned because the books were being sold via a Facebook page, which might be related to the Direct Sales and Direct Marketing Act, and he already explained the sales process to the officer. He said that there is currently no punishment, as their page does not count as direct sales, and there have been no customer complaints.

He said that they deliver the books directly to customers, and if anyone wishes to cancel their orders, they will receive a refund, so they do not intend to break the law. He also added that the officer gave them some recommendations on how to conduct their business without breaking the law.

The series also included an illustrated biography of historian and dissident writer Jit Phumisak, with poem by Srisamorn Soffer and illustration by faan.peeti

Meanwhile, Pawinee said that the OCPB received a complaint on whether it is possible to sell books online, so they are reporting to the OCPB to confirm that there is a real person who is selling the books, and that the books exist. She said that they have explained to the official that sometimes they respond to customers’ messages too slowly, or are slow to ship out the books, and if the customer wants a refund, they will give back the money, so there is currently no customer complaint to the OCPB.

Pavinee said that the official has made a record of the meeting, and the OCPB will be investigating whether there is any offense. If there is anything that is against the law, the OCPB might forward the case to other relevant agencies.

Pavinee Chumsri (left) and Pornchai (centre)

Pornchai said that the team is slightly concerned, as this is the first time they have had to deal with such an incident, but he felt that, as it already happened, they must explain it, and he believes that most people understand where they stand and that they are doing what is right and not outside the boundaries of the law.

“We want these stories to reach as many children and members of the new generation as possible, because we believe that the content of the books is not violent. It is something that is currently happening, and some are historical events that need to be recorded and talked about,” Pornchai said.

“It is a good thing if parents buy it for their children and explain it so that they understand their personal rights, about the lives of people of many nationalities and many ideologies. We have to be able to live together. I think this is a good thing and I want as many parents as possible to talk about this with their children.” 

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