Publisher pulls picture book about Washington’s slaves
New York — Scholastic pulled a controversial new picture book about George Washington and his slaves, the publisher told The Associated Press.
“A Birthday Cake for George Washington” was released Jan. 5 and had been strongly criticized for its upbeat images and story of Washington’s cook, the slave Hercules. Its withdrawal was announced Sunday.
“While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn,” the publisher said in a statement released to the AP.
The book, which depicts Hercules and his daughter preparing a cake for Washington, had received more than 100 one-star reviews on Amazon.com. The trade publication School Library Journal had called it “highly problematic” and recommended against its purchase. Another trade journal, Kirkus Reviews, had called the book “an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery.”
“A Birthday Cake” was written by Ramin Ganeshram, whose previous works include the novel “Stir It Up” and the nonfiction “FutureChefs.” Vanessa Brantley Newton is the illustrator and Andrea Davis Pinkney, an award-winning author whose honors include a Coretta Scott King award for African-American children’s literature, was the editor.
In a Scholastic blog post, Ganeshram had written that the story was based on historical research and meant to honor the slaves’ resourcefulness.
“How could they smile? How could they be anything but unrelentingly miserable?” Ganeshram wrote. “How could they be proud to bake a cake for George Washington? The answers to those questions are complex because human nature is complex. Bizarrely and yes, disturbingly, there were some enslaved people who had a better quality of life than others and ‘close’ relationships with those who enslaved them. But they were smart enough to use those ‘advantages’ to improve their lives.”
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