Scholastic Withdraws George Washington ‘Cake’ Book From Distribution Following Controversy

The children’s publisher Scholastic took the unusual step of releasing a press statement this weekend in order to head off a controversy regarding one of their new books. The publisher announced the withdrawal of A Birthday Cake for George Washington by Ramin Ganeshram.

61iN6udp5ELThe book depicts “happy” slaves eager to prepare a birthday cake for America’s first president.

“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,” the publisher’s description reads.

Amazon, which still lists the book for sale (here), includes a negative review from School Library Journal: “A highly problematic work; not recommended.” Reader reviews inside Amazon also trash the book, though only one review is listed as a “Verified Purchase”:

The story and artwork show creativity and talent. However, the promotion is misleading. This book does not deal with slavery as promised. It does however perpetuate the myths of “happy slaves” and “benevolent slave masters”. The book will leave children and parents with two false concepts: 1) Slaves were no different than hired household help, and 2) That slavery was benign. If you removed the pigment, there would be no notable difference between slaves and other white characters. Consequently, by stripping slavery of its realities, the book has stripped its pages of slaves.

Education websites, as well as several political websites, had criticized Scholastic for their decision to publish the work by Ganeshram, who has authored several other books, all cooking related. This book was also roundly criticized on Twitter on the #SlaveryWithaSmile hashtag, and was the subject of a concerted online campaign to get the book pulled.

In response, Scholastic announced on Sunday that it would withdraw the book:

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.

That's good news, but this is really just the first step. There are many other children's books in print which offer similar whitewashed or myopic view of history, including many kid's books about Christopher Columbus. There's also A Fine Dessert, a Penguin Random House title published last year. That picture book has been criticized for showing a cheerful 19th century enslaved mother and daughter as they prepared a blackberry fool recipe, and yet it still remains in print.

Mashable, Talking New Media

10 Comments on Scholastic Withdraws George Washington ‘Cake’ Book From Distribution Following Controversy

  1. Here in Montana we decided to get rid of a fountain that made reference to the Confederate soldiers of the Civil War.

    People felt really good about that after it was done. The world became a better place, hate was lessened.

    Now we don’t have that abomination reminding us of our past. We can forget our past, going forward blissfully unaware of what was, or who we were. Isn’t that great?

  2. I have pretty mixed feelings about this and I wish I knew more. What if Hercules really was proud of his position and happy in it, seeing all around him what his life could be like? What if George Washington really was a decent man? I’m not saying that’s true, but if it is true why do we have to pretend it’s not?

    I’m an old guy and I grew up listening to the radio in the days before TV and one of my favorite shows was “Amos and Andy”. Of course this was white actors playing black roles but when they finally came on TV there were black actors and it became one of the most popular shows on TV for years. It’s still probably the best sitcom ever made. By the way, it was also the first sitcom, and one of the first regularly scheduled radio shows ever.

    After it went off it was always on in re-runs until the NAACP asked that it be removed because of the false image it gave of blacks. I thought this was a terrible mistake. The portrayal was no more false than that of Riley in “The Life or Riley”, or of Archie Bunker in “All in the Family”. It didn’t make fun of black people. It made fun of people! Are we only allowed to mock white people?

    Finally the NAACP has come to realize, at least according to several articles I read a decade or so ago that “Amos and Andy” made important contributions to blacks in America. Now it can be shown again but no station or network would dare risk it.

    Yes things are getting better too slowly for blacks in the USA but pretending the past didn’t happen isn’t an answer to that.

    I’m not sure how any of that applies to this book. Of course it’s not possible to believe that slaves were happy to be slaves but it’s entirely possible to believe that some slaves were happy and grateful to have decent treatment when they could have been treated as badly as most. Call it the Stockholm Effect, if you will. Is that a truth that this book tries to portray or is it simply a trivialization of a tragedy. I wish I knew. I wish bloggers were more like journalists and dug to find out things like that instead of just passing around the latest gossip.

    Barry

  3. A far more interesting story about Hercules (Washington’s AA chef) was not told. Hercules escaped on Washington’s 65th birthday in 1797.

  4. BTW, the Kindle link is dead now. Hardcover only, 2-4 week delivery.

  5. It was live 30 minutes ago. It isn’t now.

  6. @Barry
    Never thought of it that way. Maybe secretly some of the Jews didn’t mind being rounded up by Nazis. The not so bad side of it could make for a good children’s book too. My stupid comment aside, his being a good man doesn’t matter, he owned human beings who had no control over their own lives, or their children’s lives. When that little girl on the cover is snatched away and sold away from her mother let’s see how many slaves were smiling. This argument is ridiculous, if he treated them well then it’s ok.

  7. Like it or not this book is part of our cultural heritage. It’s a window into the past, like Mein Kampf, which is a best seller in Germany again, but for different reasons this time I assume.

  8. Quick history summary of Hercules via wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hercules_(chef)

    Makes it doubtful that Hercules was happy with his lot in life, or Washington being all that decent of a man.

  9. Syn,

    I’m not trying to say that slaves were happy with their lives. I doubt that was ever true. However, it’s easy to believe that a slave who was well treated might be glad of that when other slaves in the area were less so. I can easily imagine a slave who had it better than most and knew he could be sold into worse conditions making the best of his situation.

    If that’s true it’s a story worth telling. I don’t think anything in my previous post could be read as indicating I think slavery was okay.

    As for Washington owning slaves, today that would be an indictment of him but in those days when he was raised in a slave owning culture it’s not hard to imagine a good man owning slaves.

    I read some years ago about Jefferson making a private study of his slaves, hoping to prove that they were as intelligent as white men. He began with the expectation of proving that to himself and maybe to others but he finally gave up and decided he was wrong. He failed to take into account the cultural differences. Not much was known about that sort of thing in his day.

    Talking of all slave owners being evil in that culture is, I think, making the same mistake Jefferson made. I suspect they were good men but men of their time. I’m sure there were evil men among slave owners but I doubt they were the majority. It’s kind of hard to believe the majority of people in any culture are evil.

    Barry

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