A Birthday Cake for George Washington has made quite a splash these past few weeks, and not in a good way. The book has been pulled and is no longer being printed by Scholastic after outrage that it diminished the idea of slavery.
The publisher (Scholastic) said this, “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can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.”
This is what gets me. Andrea Davis Pinkney, VP and exec editor at Scholastic, wrote a passionate post defending the book calling it “a proud slice of history.” She said many things but this is the thing that I felt compelled to put here.
“A Birthday Cake for George Washington does not take slavery’s horror for granted. On several occasions, the book comments on slavery, acknowledges it, and offers children and adults who will be sharing the book “a way in” as they speak to these issues. Of equal importance are the book’s images, which show Hercules and other indentured servants smiling. The book includes an illustrator’s note by Vanessa Newton, which speaks to the vital importance of properly depicting enslaved African Americans.
Vanessa also took great care in her research, which revealed that Hercules and the other servants in George Washington’s kitchen took great pride in their ability to cook for a man of such stature. This why Vanessa chose to portray them as happy people. They were not happy about being enslaved, but there was joy in what they created through their intelligence and culinary talent.”