Who Is the Beast? by Keith Baker

In this day and age of globalisation and digital citizenship, one would think that overbearing censorship practices — especially when the dubiously ‘controversial’ material in question is widely available elsewhere in the world or, better yet, one Google search away on the internet — are not only pointless, but also pathetically archaic and, in many cases, reflect the narrow-minded prejudices of the ‘powers-that-be’.

Case in point: the hasty and heavy-handed outright ban imposed on three children’s books, by the National Library Board of Singapore, just because they were not deemed to be ‘pro-family’ — i.e. they dared to portray families that strayed from the father-mother-child(ren) ‘ideal’. All copies of the three titles that have been removed from the library shelves will also be pulped in accordance to NLB’s ‘usual practice’ for such cases. (Incidentally, all three books are still widely stocked in libraries internationally since other librarians obviously don’t think that the titles are offensive or ‘dangerous’ in the least.)

Apparently, even an award-winning book based on the true story of two gay male penguins is also deemed ‘harmful’ to children, thanks to a single complaint from an overtly homophobic individual, who obviously has his own agenda to push and sees the need to demonise and ostracise certain segments of society by not allowing their stories to be heard.

Which brings me back to the brilliantly executed Who Is The Beast?. In this book, a tiger wanders around the jungle amidst fearful whispers of the presence of “the beast” who has a long tale, stripes on its body, powerful legs, round green eyes and long white whiskers.

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When it dawns upon the tiger that he may be the so-called “beast” that the other animals are running away from, however, he shows them that he actually has more in common with them than they think.

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Since this book offers several levels of understanding, it has a very wide demographic appeal: toddlers can appreciate it at face value — the short rhyming couplets have a nice rhythm to them, brought to life by the strikingly lush and cleverly detailed illustrations of the animals in the jungle, all done in Liquitex acrylics; on the other hand, the more mature and perceptive readers will also realise that this gorgeous book is, in fact, an elegant treatise on discrimination.

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Now, if only the people who really need a lesson on tolerance and empathy will read this and, for once, get off their high horse.

Incidentally, my hardcover copy was printed and bound by Tien Wah Press in 1990 — in Singapore. Talk about irony.

#freemylibrary #wewantdiversebooks

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2 thoughts on “Who Is the Beast? by Keith Baker

    • Thank you! This is definitely one of the best picture books I’ve read to date, and one that will stick in your mind long after you’ve read it. But the best endorsement comes from my kids, who enjoy it as much as I do!

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