Scholastic pulls criticized book on Washington slave

NEW YORK -- Scholastic is pulling a new picture book about George Washington and his slaves amid objections it sentimentalizes a brutal part of American history.

See Full Article

"A Birthday Cake for George Washington" was released Jan. 5 and had been strongly criticized for its upbeat images and story of Washington's cook, the slave Hercules and his daughter, Delia. Its withdrawal was announced Sunday.

"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can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn," the children's publisher said in a statement released to the AP.

The book, which depicts Hercules and Delia preparing a cake for Washington, has received more than 100 one-star reviews on Amazon.com. As of Sunday evening, only 12 reviews were positive. The book also set off discussions on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere on social media.

While notes in "A Birthday Cake for George Washington" from author Ramin Ganeshram and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton had pointed out the historical context of the 18th century story and that Hercules eventually escaped, some critics faulted Ganeshram and Brantley-Newton for leaving out those details from the main narrative.

"Oh, how George Washington loves his cake!" reads the publisher's description of the story. "And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president's cake. But this year there is one problem -- they are out of sugar."

The trade publication School Library Journal had called it "highly problematic" and recommended against its purchase. Another trade journal, Kirkus Reviews, had labeled the book "an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery."

Ganeshram's previous works include the novel "Stir It Up" and the nonfiction "FutureChefs," while Brantley-Newton's credits include illustrating the children's series "Ruby and the Booker Boys." Andrea Davis Pinkney, an award-winning author who in 2013 won a Coretta Scott King prize for African-American children's literature, was the editor.

In a Scholastic blog post from last week, Ganeshram wrote that the story was based on historical research and meant to honour the slaves' skill and resourcefulness.

"How could they smile? How could they be anything but unrelentingly miserable?" Ganeshram wrote. "How could they be proud to bake a cake for George Washington? The answers to those questions are complex because human nature is complex. 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. But they were smart enough to use those 'advantages' to improve their lives."

Sunday's announcement comes amid an ongoing debate about the lack of diversity in publishing and recalls a similar controversy from last year. "A Fine Dessert," written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, was criticized for its cheerful depiction of a 19th century slave mother and daughter as they prepared a blackberry dessert. Jenkins apologized, saying that her book, which she "intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive." ("A Fine Dessert," released by the Random House imprint Schwartz & Wade, remains in print).

Copies of "A Birthday Cake for George Washington" were not easy to find even before Scholastic's decision. The print edition on Amazon.com, ranked No. 13.202 earlier Sunday, was listed as shipping within "2 to 4 weeks." Several Barnes & Noble stores in Manhattan did not have the book in stock. Scholastic spokeswoman Kyle Good said she could not provide an immediate reason for delays in the book's availability.



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Film academy president welcomes new members at private party

    Entertainment CTV News
    BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Jeanne Tripplehorn has been a professional actress for more than 25 years. But as a new member of the film academy, she's almost as giddy as her first day on set. Source
  • Actor James Cromwell charged over Seaworld protest

    Entertainment CTV News
    SAN DIEGO -- Actor James Cromwell has been charged with trespassing for interrupting and denouncing an orca show at SeaWorld in San Diego. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Monday that the misdemeanor charge could mean 90 days in jail or a fine up to $400. Source
  • Spicer defends Emmy appearance, says critics should lighten up

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK - Sean Spicer says his surprise Emmy Awards appearance was a chance to have some fun, and suggested Tuesday that people who were upset by it were taking things too seriously. Clearly, not everyone was laughing, however. Source
  • Avril Lavigne 'most dangerous celebrity' on Internet: McAfee

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK - One-time pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne has beaten superstar Beyonce at something, but she may not be totally happy with her victory - she's been named the most dangerous celebrity on the internet. Source
  • Lido Pimienta wins Polaris Music Prize for La Papessa

    Entertainment CBC News
    Colombian immigrant Lido Pimienta has won the 2017 Polaris Music Prize for her album La Papessa. The Spanish-language independent release — which translates to "high priestess" — was selected by an 11-member jury based on its artistic merit. Source
  • At a Toronto library, you can read the first draft of The Handmaid's Tale

    Entertainment CTV News
    In a gently lit reading room inside the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, you can peruse the first draft of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. “I was surprised how few changes she made,” librarian Jennifer Toews told CTV News. Source
  • 2017 fall movie preview: 30 films we’re excited for from ‘Blade Runner 2049’ to ‘Justice League’ [Video]

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Despite standouts like Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the Big Sick, Hollywood wasn’t uncorking the champagne as its summer movie slate came to an end. The summer’s $3.8 billion in box-office dough was actually a decline of almost 15% from last year. Source
  • CanLit community celebrates success of 'The Handmaid's Tale' after Emmys

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- When Margaret Atwood took the stage with the team from "The Handmaid's Tale" at the end of Sunday's Emmy Awards, Mike Hamm cheered on the CanLit legend from his Halifax home while the Los Angeles audience gave her a standing ovation. Source
  • 'Wonder Woman' director Patty Jenkins talks film's 'surreal' success, post-credit scenes and the Oscars [Video]

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    After the critical and financial success of this summer’s Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins is paving the way for DC’s live-action cinematic universe. But when she was shooting the first standalone movie to feature a female superhero since 2005’s Elektra, she just wanted to make a film that satisfied moviegoers. Source
  • Hollywood director James Cameron invests in Saskatchewan pea processing plant

    Entertainment CBC News
    Hollywood director James Cameron and his wife, Suzy Amis Cameron, have announced they are investing in an organic pea processing plant in Saskatchewan. The Oscar-winning Cameron appeared Monday in Vanscoy, a village southwest of Saskatoon, to say the couple have formed Verdient Foods to handle 160,000 tonnes of organic pea protein. Source