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can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn," the children's publisher said in a statement released to the AP.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

  • Suit over erotic fiction about NFL player tossed

    Entertainment CTV News
    CINCINNATI -- A federal appeals court has spiked an Ohio couple's case against companies that distributed an erotic fiction book about a woman's desire for New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski. The 6th U.S. Source
  • Musician Amy Sky says David Cassidy should be remembered for his 'generosity'

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- Like many others who came of age in the 1970s, Canadian musician Amy Sky was a big fan of David Cassidy, the "Partridge Family" actor who died on Tuesday at age 67. So it was a thrill when she was cast alongside the TV star in a 1996 Toronto production of the musical "Blood Brothers. Source
  • William Shatner complains about Ontario condo using his name, likeness

    Entertainment CTV News
    HAMILTON - William Shatner is objecting to the use of his name and likeness to promote an upcoming condo development in Hamilton. The "Star Trek" star, best known for playing Captain Kirk on the original series, set his lasers on the project -- dubbed "Television City" -- on Twitter. Source
  • Christopher Plummer has this to say about retirement - never

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- At 87, Christopher Plummer isn't just working -- he's busy. He has five movies scheduled for release, including "A Christmas Carol" origin story called "The Man Who Invented Christmas." And he plans to work until the very end, literally. Source
  • Backstreet Boys singer Nick Carter faces sexual assault allegation

    Entertainment CBC News
    Nick Carter says he's "shocked and saddened" by allegations made by a singer who said he raped her about 15 years ago. Melissa Schuman of the girl group Dream wrote in a blog post earlier this month that she was "forced to engage in an act against my will. Source
  • Report: U.K. police investigating 2nd Spacey sex-assault claim

    Entertainment CTV News
    LONDON -- Police in London are investigating a second allegation of sexual assault against actor Kevin Spacey, British media reported Wednesday. The Metropolitan Police force said it had received a complaint "of sexual assaults against a man" in 2005 in the London borough of Lambeth. Source
  • Canadian screen stars want 'action' from industry meeting on sexual misconduct

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- Compared to Hollywood, Canada's screen industry is tiny. And by all accounts, there are fewer egos, bullies and power-trippers on the scale of Harvey Weinstein within it. "But of course there's been sexual harassment here. Source
  • William Shatner takes aim at Hamilton condo developer

    Entertainment CBC News
    Flashy Toronto condo developer Brad Lamb can now count a starship captain among his enemies. William Shatner, famous for his role as Captain Kirk on the original Star Trek series, took Lamb to task on Source
  • Nick Carter 'shocked,' 'saddened' by singer's assault claim

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Nick Carter says he's "shocked and saddened" by accusations made by a singer who said he raped her about 15 years ago. Melissa Schuman of the girl group Dream wrote in a blog post that she was "forced to engage in an act against my will. Source
  • New allegations against Charlie Rose emerge at CBS News

    Entertainment CBC News
    ?The morning show where Charlie Rose worked until being fired Tuesday is reporting that two women at CBS News claim that Rose grabbed them inappropriately, with one saying he also whispered a sexual innuendo. The accusations came to light after CBS News President David Rhodes fired Rose on Tuesday for what he called "extremely disturbing and intolerable behaviour" toward women at his PBS talk show. Source