US Publisher Recalls Children’s Book on Slavery


Fern Robinson

Scholastic Publishing is recalling one of its children’s books from bookstore shelves in the U.S. because, as it said in a statement Sunday, “the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves.”

One of the country’s founders and its first president owned many slaves during his lifetime.

A Birthday Cake for George Washington (written by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton) was released earlier this month and was roundly criticized for its sanitized depiction of the brutal institution of slavery.

The story focuses on Washington’s enslaved cook Hercules and is told in the voice of Delia, Hercules’ daughter. Delia describes her father as “the general of the president’s kitchen.”

The book flap reads: “Everyone’s buzzing about the president’s birthday. Especially George Washington’s servants, who scurry around the kitchen preparing to make this the best celebration ever.”

Scholastic said “We do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children, despite the positive intentions and belief of the author, editor and illustrator.”

Andrea Davis Pinkney, vice president and executive editor of Scholastic Trade Publishing, in defending the book blogged earlier this month on the publishing site that “Hercules is often thought of by culinary historians as the first celebrity chef in America.”

Pinkney noted that the illustrator’s research revealed Hercules and other Washington slaves “took great pride in their ability to cook for a man of such stature” and that is why the illustrator “chose to portray them as happy people.”

The book has received over 100 (low) one-star ratings on Amazon. The site does permit a zero rating. One Amazon reviewer titled her review “It’s like Anne & Otto Frank Baking Cookies for Adolf Hitler on Christmas.”

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