Scholastic is known for good financial decisions like publishing Harry Potter after it had been rejected “loads of times” (in the words of author JK Rowling, but this week it showed it’s not immune to bad choices by pulling the book “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” from distribution after a firestorm of criticism. For some reason, the publisher thought it was a good idea to published a book romanticizing slavery and portraying his slave, Hercules, as a happy Uncle Remus type rather than a discontent man who eventually escaped from his famous master.
The story, told through the eyes of the slave’s daughter, Delia, portrays her enslaved father as excited and happy to bake the cake, glossing over the fact that he really as no choice. The other slaves are supposedly happy to help him when he discovered there’s no sugar. This is all depicted in bright, cartoonish illustrations more fitting for a book like “Goodnight. Moon.” They contrast starkly with the harsh realities of slaves’ everyday lives.
Ironically, Hercules is portrayed in the book as happy to serve his “massa,” yet he eventually managed to escape from Washington; not exactly the action of a man who’s thrilled to be another person’s property.
The book has been battered with scathing one star reviews on Amazon. Most reviewers point out that it completely glosses over reality and gives young children a romanticized view of slavery, although a small handful of people had a bit of praise. The overwhelming opinion is that it’s a terrible attempt to introduce the concept to youngsters because it’s totally devoid of the depressing facts about Hercules and slave life in general.
Scholastic finally responded to the criticism with this statement:
January 17, 2016) Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and will accept all returns. 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can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.
Scholastic has a long history of explaining complex and controversial issues to children at all ages and grade levels. We do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children, despite the positive intentions and beliefs of the author, editor, and illustrator.
Scholastic provides a wide variety of fiction and informational books and magazines which teachers, parents and children rely on, including many devoted to African American experience, history and culture. We are also committed to providing books, magazines, and educational materials that portray the experience of all children, including those from diverse communities and backgrounds, and we will continue to expand that commitment through our global publishing channels.