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Random House pushes the envelope, then pulls back

Presumably, the U.K. arm of Random House Children’s Books knew what it was getting into when it published the latest children’s novel by Jacqueline Wilson, titled My Sister Jodie, in which one of the characters uses the scurrilous word twat. It was meant to be a nasty word on purpose, because this is a nasty character, a Random House spokesperson told The Guardian . And yet, when the predictable backlash hit, the firm decided to remove the offending term from future editions.

Random House Children’s Books received three complaints from parents about the use of the word twat in the book, which is aimed at children aged 10 years and over. Wilson, a former Children’s Laureate, is an enormously popular author, and the book has already sold 150,000 copies in the U.K. since publication in March. But the complaints have meant that the publisher will replace the word with twit when it comes to reprint the novel.

Given those sales figures, it’s difficult to see what moral victory is being achieved. Likely, the publisher is reacting to the fears of one of its more jittery retailers.

Supermarket chain Asda also received a complaint about the novel, which it passed on to Random House, and it is now in the process of withdrawing it from stores until the novel is reprinted. Asda said it had sold over 28,000 copies of My Sister Jodie since it was published, and that the complaint was the first and only one it had received.

Who writes to a supermarket chain to complain about literary matters? Evidently, a savvy operator.