The Associated Press recently reported that Scholastic pulled a picture book it had published this week after complaints that the book “sentimentalized” slavery.
The picture book, “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” was released on January 5th, 2016 in time for the holidays in February honoring U.S. Presidents.
Written by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, the book centers on celebrating America’s first president’s birthday from the eyes of a slave girl whose father is Washington’s baker.
It’s description reads:
“Everyone is buzzing about the president’s birthday! Especially George Washington’s servants, who scurry around the kitchen preparing to make this the best celebration ever. Oh, how George Washington loves his cake! And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president’s cake. But this year there is one problem–they are out of sugar.
“This story, told in the voice of Delia, Hercules’s young daughter, is based on real events, and underscores the loving exchange between a very determined father and his eager daughter, who are faced with an unspoken, bittersweet reality. No matter how delicious the president’s cake turns out to be, Delia and Papa will not taste the sweetness of freedom.”
In response, Change.org, started a petition to force Scholastic to pull the book. It claims:
“‘A Birthday Cake for George Washington’ is a harmful story for young children. It subtly reinforces messages of black people as less-than to children, by associating positive feelings with stories of slavery.”
It also asserts the book “is emotionally damaging to our children. This historical fiction sugarcoats the inhumanity of slavery.”
The Associated Press reports, “the trade publication School Library Journal had called it ‘highly problematic’ and recommended against its purchase. Another trade journal, Kirkus Reviews, had labeled the book ‘an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery.’”
Ganeshram responded that the book “was based on historical research and meant to honor the slaves’ skill and resourcefulness.”
Interestingly, all three most involved with the book are known within their fields and the minority community. The author, Ganeshram, is an award-winning journalist whose father is from Trinidad and mother is from Iran. She wrote the novel “Stir It Up” and the nonfiction book, “FutureChefs.”
The illustrator, Brantley-Newton, has an “African American, Asian, European, and Jewish” background and illustrated the children’s series, “Ruby and the Booker Boys,” among others. The editor, Andrea Davis Pinkney, won a Coretta Scott King prize for African-American children’s literature in 2013.