Scholastic pulls the Washington children’s book after a nationwide outrage has ensued. The publisher announced on Sunday that “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” is being pulled from the shelves and that it would accept all returned books.
The publisher, Scholastic Inc. is pulling the George Washington children’s book because the book is making “light of the plight of slaves in America,” reports USA Today on January 18. The action comes after critics and readers alike slammed the book for its upbeat illustration of torturous slavery.
The children’s book, “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” was written by Ramin Ganeshram and tells the story of how excited “the servants” are about the president’s birthday. The only problem is that Hercules, Washington’s head chef, “takes great pride in baking the president’s cake,” and he is 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,” reads Amazon’s description to the book.
The book’s author, New York Times food writer Ramin Ganeshram, and the book’s illustrator, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, had intended to “serve up a slice of history in a picture book narrative that will surely satisfy.”
However, less than a month after its publication, the children’s book — which was designed for first to third grades — has been pulled from the shelves and is only available by third party sellers on Amazon. So what happened?
According to the School Library Journal book’s editorial reviews, the book is a troubling depiction of American slavery, especially since it is based on real life Hercules who was owned by the first president and who served as his chef. “Brantley-Newton’s colorful, cartoon-style double-page illustrations, combined with the light tone of the text, convey a feeling of joyfulness that contrasts starkly with the reality of slave life.”
While Hercules, his daughter Delia, and other slaves stress about finding a replacement for the missing sugar for the president’s birthday cake, the white folks are depicted dancing away. When Washington eventually congratulates his chef for a job well done, Hercules responds with “an honor and a privilege, sir.”
Hercules, who is by many regarded as “the first celebrity chef in America,” eventually found his freedom by escaping, but his daughter Delia and the other slaves continued to be owned and be enslaved by Martha Washington.
“Hercules used the hoopla around George Washington’s 65th Birthday to plot his escape from George Washington (IN REAL LIFE). He plotted this escape with his children-but not all of them were able to escape (IN REAL LIFE). Hercules was considered a fugitive until George Washington freed the 200 or so people that were enslaved on his plantation….Most of the slaves were ‘free’ except Hercules grandchildren ended up still being enslaved because they were ‘dower’ slaves,” writes one Amazon reviewer.
“An insulting tale that sprinkles glitter on rape, murder, torture and servitude. This foolishness shouldn’t be read to children. It’s scary that this made it through the hands of so many and no one stopped it,” writes another reviewer.
“George Washington was not Hercules’s friend; he was his owner who split him up from his children on a regular basis to ensure that his ownership would continue,” writes another reviewer on Twitter.
The outrage expressed on Amazon and Twitter is being expressed by hundreds more on social media sites and the news that “Scholastic pulls [the] Washington book” is highly welcomed.