Scholastic admits error in book about 'happy' slaves

Posted on Jan 18 2016 - 5:01pm by
Scholastic had no choice but to pull “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” after parents complained. Fact is, the slave depicted as being so happy actually tried to flee Washington’s bondage.

Scholastic had no choice but to pull “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” after parents complained. Fact is, the slave depicted as being so happy actually tried to flee Washington’s bondage.

Oops, slavery was bad.

Kids book publisher Scholastic belatedly admitted that its children’s story about George Washington’s happy slaves gives “a false impression of…reality.”

The statement came as the publishing giant pulled the book, “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” after days of criticism.

“The book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn,” the publisher said late Sunday.

“Scholastic has a long history of explaining complex and controversial issues,” the publisher wrote. “[But] we do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation … despite the positive intentions and beliefs of the author, editor, and illustrator.”

Scholastic had earlier defended the book, which was released on Jan. 5, despite a depiction of the first president’s kitchen slaves as cheerful as they prepared a ball at Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

The happy picture book by New York Times food writer Ramin Ganeshram and acclaimed illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton shows Washington’s real-life cook Hercules, and the slave’s daughter looking for sugar to bake the president’s cake.

Delia calls her father “the general of the president’s kitchen,” and the pictures show the slaves working happily downstairs while the guests are seen from the knees down celebrating upstairs.

Yet historians and customers argued on Monday that the story overlooks the fact that the great leader’s slaves often tried to run away from being forced to labor on his plantation, and that Washington whipped and disciplined his slaves harshly.

In fact, Hercules ran away from Washington’s Virginia home on the president’s birthday in 1797, according to Mount Vernon historian Mary Thompson.

“The book should not have been published,” said Brenda Greene, the executive director of the Center for Black Literature at the City University of New York.

George Washington: America’s founding father was also a brutal slaveowner.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Washington: America’s founding father was also a brutal slaveowner.

“As an educator, I do not generally recommend the banning of books,” she added. “[But] to publish this book in 2016 is a testament to how far we still have to go in helping our society to understand the impact of slavery and racism in our society.”

The book was slammed with more than 100 1-star ratings on Amazon in the weeks since it came out.

Kiera Parrot of the School Library Journal called the book “a troubling depiction of American slavery” in her review, and worried that young readers blissfully ignorant of the history of American slavery “may come away with a dangerously rosy impression of the relationship between slaves and slave owners.”

Greene agreed that “the distorted facts in this book perpetuate the silencing of the voices of those who were enslaved for decades.”

Customers on the book’s Amazon page shared their disdain.

“An insulting tale that sprinkles glitter on rape, murder, torture and servitude,” wrote one.

Another commenter compared the tone-deaf tale to “Anne and Otto Frank baking cookies for Adolf Hitler on Christmas.”

An offended Rasheeda Pilgrim fumed that black slaves didn’t come to the United States willingly, and that Washington’s were “forced” to cook this storied birthday dessert.

Worse, the author includes “Martha Washington’s” cake recipe in the closing pages of the story.

“Pull this off the shelves, the internet and our minds,” Pilgrim wrote. “This is crap and you know it. What lies are you trying to feed to our children?”

npesce@nydailynews.com

Music & Arts – NY Daily News

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