A book about George Washington’s slaves has been pulled by Scholastic after a public outcry. Critics asserted that A Birthday Cake for George Washington misrepresented the reality of slavery, and Scholastic seems to agree. The publisher has ceased distribution of the problematic picture book.
A Birthday Cake for George Washington was written by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. The main character of the picture book is a real-life historical figure named Hercules, a slave and talented chef. Hercules and his daughter are depicted in the book as being rather happy, which struck many as inappropriate given their condition.
Unhappy readers started a change.org petition and flooded Amazon with negative reviews. Scholastic initially defended the book, saying that it took a nuanced but fair view. Hercules was America’s “first celebrity chef,” the book’s editor argued argued, and the slaves were happy because they took pride in their work. The author, Ramin Ganeshram, defended her work in a blog post. “Bizarrely and yes, disturbingly, there were some enslaved people who had a better quality of life than others and ‘close’ relationships with those who enslaved them,” Ganeshram wrote, “but they were smart enough to use those “advantages” to improve their lives.”
These defenses did little to stem the tide of criticism, and now Scholastic is pulling the book. In a new statement published on Scholastic’s blog on Sunday, the company defends the integrity of the book’s creators but announces that they will no longer distribute the title. Scholastic will also accept all returns on the book.