Children’s publisher Scholastic has announced that it will halt production on a controversial new children’s title that features George Washington’s slaves, according to AP.
The picture book, titled “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” follows the first president’s cook Hercules and his daughter Delia as they happily bake a cake for the founding father. Since its Jan. 5 release, the material has come under fire for its tone-deaf telling of history.
A description of the book released by Scholastic reads, “Oh, how George Washington loves his cake! 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.”
“A Birthday Cake for George Washington” was deemed “highly problematic” by the trade publication School Library Journal while Kirkus Reviews called the book “an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery.” On Amazon the piece has received more than 100 one-star reviews, with some labeling the book’s content an act of erasure and white-washing of history.
Author Ramin Ganeshram addressed critics in a post on the Scholastic blog, writing, “How could they smile? How could they be anything but unrelentingly miserable? How could they be proud to bake a cake for George Washington? 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.”
Apparently the book failed to directly acknowledge that aspect of baking a cake for Washington, opting to leave out the less comfortable details of Hercules relationship to America’s first president. In a statement to AP, Scholastic addressed their decision to cease production on the children’s book.
“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can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.”