Scholastic Pulls Children's Book About George Washington And His Slaves After Outcry

The picture book was strongly criticized for its upbeat images and story of Washington's cook, the slave Hercules and his daughter, Delia.

01/18/2016 06:04 am ET

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

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can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn," the children's publisher said in a statement released to the AP.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

In a Scholastic blog post from last week, Ganeshram wrote that the story was based on historical research and meant to honor 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, although the collaborators on "A Birthday Cake" come from a variety of backgrounds. Ganeshram is an award-winning journalist and author born to a Trinidadian father and Iranian mother and has a long history of food writing. Her previous works include the novel "Stir It Up" and the nonfiction "FutureChefs."

Brantley-Newton, who has described herself as coming from a "blended background — African American, Asian, European, and Jewish," has illustrated the children's series "Ruby and the Booker Boys" among other books. The editor was Andrea Davis Pinkney, also an author who in 2013 won a Coretta Scott King prize for African-American children's literature.

The pulling of the Washington book also 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 recipe. 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, 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.

Children’s Book About Happy Slaves Amazon Bestseller After Controversy Demand grew when Scholastic announced it would stop distributing the book

Original Post

It really exposes how racist so many white people are when they hear about the book because of the controversy and it becomes a best seller through Amazon. 

A Birthday Cake for George Washington Hardcover – April 21, 2016




Like, who does that 'itch' think she is to write a story aboutBlack slaves in America in the first place, not to mention the fact that she framed to story as if there was absolutely nothing wrong with slavery to begin with, and added insult to injury characterizing African/Black slaves as being freaking "happy" or "happy" to be George Washington's racist, human hostage holding, pedophile ass's slaves.

Why she didn't make the characters in her book Indian, and let them be "happy" slaves that were "happy" to bake a cake for the King of England's birthday.




Flip to back
See all 2 images


3 Black women are involved in producing this book, the author, the editor and the illustrator. What was they thinking? I really don't get, why they did not see the obvious insult and the huge historical inaccuracies of this book and the shame that it was meant to educate children.

I've known 2 families of Trinidadians, one from family from Tobago and the other from Trinidad both families were very nice people but the family from Trinidad had mix of Black, East Indian, Chinese and were not into their Blackness at all. The family from Tobago was Black and proud very dark family, pure 100% African and much fun to be with. Likely, Ramin Ganeshram have a problem feeling insensitive to Black people in general, her Columbia University education may added to her hubris attitude. 

All 3 of these women have done good work regarding cultural books but somehow did not see the obvious ticking bomb of this work. Why? 

Ramin Ganeshram, author

Andrea Davis Pinkney, the editor.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton, the illustrator



Photos (3)

  I don't think they THOUGHT the theme of the book thoroughly enough in terms of how it would affect African Americans concept of what it meant give a false persona of what it is to be a happy slave. Surely they know that during the time of Washington, he had an enormous amount of slaves-who were not so jovial.  I think they didn't wanna touch that concept.  But it is dangerous for children not to tell the truth or to gloss over it like brutal slavery during the time of Washington never existed.  To me?  They were playing in Texas' hand when publishing this book.  I haven't read any of their literary writes so I don't know their perceptive language for children.  But by working with children, I do know that it is important especially for black children to keep them keenly aware of their history...and not try to make it sound like forced slavery as we know it never existed in our culture because it did.  It is a disservice to them.  That's like saying guns don't kill.  It kills just like people kill.  So my next question would be.  Do these women have children themselves?  If so, how could they possibly get the nerve to lie or avoid dealing with the realities of African American life from 1618 to present?  It's one thing to write fantasy and another to fabricate the truth...even if it's in children's books.  But!

Write a book about the slave that provided George's teeth after they were plucked out of his head. George wore his slave's teeth as his own. That's some demented shit there from the 1st Pres. of the Joint.  He obviously wasn't worried about getting the Nigger Heeby Jeebies, when he was trying to get his smile on.

"3 Black women are involved in producing this book, the author, the editor and the illustrator."


You can see why she happened to choose those two.  

She rolled the die on some token kneegroes quelling any backlash that she HAD TO KNOW would be coming down the pike, and those two big Black[like me and you] dummies were more than happy to throw their entire race under a bus to oblige.  

It is astonishing the number of Black people willing to stab their own race in the back for a buck or for 15 minutes of fame.  


 [Like I always say, housekneegroes and Black sellouts do just as much, if not more, harm to the Black race than all the racists, defamers, and oppressors of Black people combined]

The fact that slaves running away to freedom was at its very heights during George Washington's life. I can't remember exactly when this happened but on one occasion 30 thousand slaves ran away to freedom. Slave revolts were frequent. Insurance company's would not extend insurance to slave owners because their property would often go up in flames set by slaves and it was true with some slave owning states for the same reasons. Slavery was at the eye of US history and for these educated Black women to produce such a book was foul. 

Momentum posted:

Slavery was at the eye of US history and for these educated Black women to produce such a book was foul. 

And since he not only held Black people hostage on his property, he wasa rapist of Black women and a pedophile of  little Black girls; so, what other hostage holding, rapists and/or pedophiles are these Black female, groveling housekneegroes promoting, illustrating, or editing false redeeming qualities about?


Why the Banning of 'A Birthday Cake for George Washington' Really Matters

02/11/2016 01:37 pm ET | Updated 5 hours ago
    Ramin GaneshramAward-winning news reporter and cookbook author educated at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

On Sunday, January 17, 2016 Scholastic Inc., withdrew my book A Birthday Cake for George Washington from publication stating it provided a "false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves." The company claims otherwise, but certainly public outcry determined its decision.

In the aftermath, it would be easy to feel satisfied that censorship of this book is a testament to the power of modern activism. Using social media, a vocal audience was able to rid the world of a story it considered to be racist without even reading it. It's a free speech success story -- except it's not.

In halting the publication of this book, the publisher silenced the story of George Washington's enslaved chef, Hercules, a remarkable man whose talent and self-possession earned him unusual status in his own time.

Hercules came and went from the President's House in Philadelphia as he pleased. He sold kitchen slops, earning a salary twice that of the average free white man.

 "It's a free speech success story -- except it's not."


Still, almost free is not free and Hercules enjoyed his lifestyle upon Washington's whim. When Washington forced Hercules from the kitchen and into the field, the cook demonstrated his mettle and bravely escaped Mount Vernon in the wee hours of the President's 65th birthday.

As a chef and person of color, I revere and admire Hercules. I wrote A Birthday Cake for George Washington to lionize him through one fictional moment in which he uses superior talent to overcome culinary disaster.

Imagine my horror when the children's book I wrote to celebrate this gifted black American was twisted and misconstrued as a defense of slavery by an online lynch mob (and I use that word deliberately) that angrily and incorrectly parsed my ethnicity.

As outcry grew, the publisher asked me to remain silent. I couldn't respond to the public's belief that I had creative control over the images even though, like most picture book authors, I had no authority to approve them. I first saw the illustrations when my book was laid out and ready for press and strenuously objected to them verbally and in writing. I stated that the "over-joviality" of the enslaved people depicted were not "on point with accuracy and sensitivity"

I wrote that while I believed Hercules and his staff took pride and satisfaction in their abilities, the characters would not be "overjoyed doing this work." I voiced concern that the illustrations gave my words unintended levity. Far earlier, I wanted changes to the book's ending so it would not imply that Hercules felt privileged to be Washington's slave.

I insisted that the free and indentured white servants who worked in that kitchen should be depicted because their absence both belied historical fact and diminished Hercules' importance as a commanding figure to whom others deferred.

Later, I expressed concern over what became the hotly contested jacket copy.

Every one of my requests was ignored or refused.

Even as protests reached a fever pitch, the publisher continued to ask for my silence except for one company-approved blog post. I was asked not to respond to the media, or to social media attacks on me personally, calling out my perceived race, nationality, color, scholarship and journalistic integrity.

"Most pressing is the question of whether we can ever reach a place in our society where questions of race can be openly and objectively discussed, especially with our children. "


The situation escalated after a petition directed people to, without having read the book, use the book's page as a political forum for negative reviews calling for the book to be banned. "Reviewers" flooded the page with libel, hate rhetoric and violent, racist imagery -- in violation of the company's policies. Despite requests by the publisher and myself to remove these, Amazon did not comply. To date, Amazon has not only allowed these reviews to remain posted but to grow in number.

On the evening of Friday, January 15 the publisher expressed delight about the public "conversation" which pushed books sales. Two days later, it appeared to bow to public pressure and banned its own book. Its actions made international news, feeding the biggest media outlets to the smallest blogs. Free speech groups later condemned the book's censorship.

Yet, no one contacted me for my side.

There is more at stake here than the future of one author or one picture book. Most pressing is the question of whether we can ever reach a place in our society where questions of race can be openly and objectively discussed, especially with our children.

To do this, we first have to face the panic about stories like A Birthday Cake For George Washington, which are about a singular moments in the lives of enslaved characters rather than being explorations of slavery in America.

The book was written four years ago with what seemed, at the time, to be the reasonable assumption that understanding the overarching horror and criminality of slavery was a given -- and that parents and educators would share that context in a way that was most appropriate for their young listener.

Yet, despite all logic, America still does not uniformly accept that slavery was an inhuman abomination.

Horrifyingly, the benign rewriting of slavery continues in history books. Disturbingly, there are politicians crowing about the "benefits" of slavery to the enslaved. Monstrously, some still refuse to admit the long-term ill effects of enslavement on an entire race of Americans.

Because we live in a world where the most heinous racial injustice continues at the hands of the most powerful and untouchable, average people have plenty of rightful frustration and anger. We reach for ways to effect tangible change. Attacking a picture book by accessible people was a way to get heard without being ignored.

But now that change-makers have the attention of the publishing world., they need to carry on the momentum and demand the retooling of the way children's books are produced, namely the lack of collaboration between writers and illustrators.

Without collaboration there will be more "misses" and it's unlikely that the industry will again censor itself post-publication as it did with A Birthday Cake for George Washington. Instead, publishing will go back to safely ignoring stories that might require a delicate hand. Movements like We Need Diverse Books will become irrevocably derailed, as writers, artists, and publishers avoid topics that might incite public outcry.

"We have to face our own prejudices about who is 'allowed' to write certain stories and whether that is productive."


We have to face our own prejudices about who is "allowed" to write certain stories and whether that is productive. Another reason the outcry was so explosive was the perceived role of the creators' race in producing this book -- a question posed first by Kirkus Reviews, an authority that is meant to objectively consider the content of books not the ethnicity of their authors. Bloggers who insisted a non-white creative team would never produce such a book, took away my status as a person of color and glossed over the fact that the illustrator and editor are both African American.

My right to talk about Hercules became predicated on whether my skin color allowed me the clearest understanding of enslavement. If that is true, we are at a dangerous precipice where research, scholarship and dedication to a subject can fall away when a mob decides an author doesn't fit in the right box.

It's one thing to understand the volatility of the outrage toward A Birthday Cake for George Washington, but another to learn from it. The righting of racial injustice doesn't come from shutting down conversations by banning books or screaming the loudest but from opening dialogues. Without these dialogues we're in danger of living in a world where any single, sanctioned group may decide what we might write or read or say or think, based upon their own interpretations of an "us" and "them" society.---



"When Washington forced Hercules from the kitchen and into the field, the cook demonstrated his mettle and bravely escaped Mount Vernon in the wee hours of the President's 65th birthday."


Was this the main take away from the story? That Hercules used baking a cake for George Washington's birthday as a ruse to escape slavery? or is that just a statement she's making about the real-life Hercules that she failed to mention or stress in the book?  If not, as far as the editor and illustrator being African American is concerned, it makes it even worse, especially on their parts, for not addressing this point and/or for creating deceptive illustrations of 'slaves' in the first place.  

And, no, it doesn't matter what race a person is that writes about Slavery in America, as long as what they write is truthful and reflects the reality of slavery in America and does not attempt to redeem its perpetrators by downplaying the crime against humanity that enslaving human beings was or ignores the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical misery that it imposed on its victims.  

Add Reply

Likes (0)