Controversial George Washington Book About Slavery Pulled From Shelves

Scholastic just pulled a book out of circulation revolving around George Washington and his slaves. USA Today reports the book is called A Birthday Cake for George Washington and is written by Ramin Ganeshram.

Released on January 5, the book revolves around George Washington’s “head chef,” Hercules, who bakes a cake for the first president on his birthday. The storyline and illustrations haven’t resonated well with critics, parents, and educators from around the United States.

Scholastic released a statement detailing their thought process.

“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can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.”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 book received numerous one-star ratings on Amazon, and Kiera Parrot of the School Library Journal slammed the story in her review.

“[The] colorful, cartoon-style double-page illustrations, combined with the light tone of the text, convey a feeling of joyfulness that contrasts starkly with the reality of slave life,” Kiera wrote.

The negative views from Kiera and other literary experts aren’t the only ones floating around the internet. The New York Times reports that author Ramin Ganeshram defended his book in a blog post, stating that the book accurately represents the complex nature of slave life.

He wrote that the story tells of the “complex and varied nature of enslaved existence,” including “enslaved people who had a better quality of life than others and ‘close’ relationships with those who enslaved them.”

“Yet the discussion and criticism of the book has, instead, been focused on the literal face value of the characters,” she continued. “How could they smile? How could they be anything but unrelentingly miserable? The answers to those questions are complex because human nature is complex.”

Scholastic editor Davis Pinkney took Ganeshram’s side, too.

“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,” Pinkney wrote.

Despite a few people backing the author and illustrator, Scholastic still decided to reverse its original stance on the book, which they elaborated on in a statement.

“We do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children, despite the positive intentions and beliefs of the author, editor and illustrator,” Scholastic said.

The book has only been out since January 5.

Author Ramin Ganeshram is an award-winning journalist and author with a Trinidadian father and Iranian mother. Her previous books include the novel Stir It Up and the nonfiction FutureChefs.

Last year, a similar controversy surrounded A Fine Dessert, a book about a 19th-century slave mother who prepares a blackberry recipe with her daughter. The book was written by Emily Jenkins and has a three-star rating on Amazon at the moment.

Despite Ganeshram researching the book for “four years” and thinking “long and hard about every word and description,” Scholastic’s last words are final.

The book is still available for sale on Amazon, but it’s doubtful that it will be purchased in the future.

[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]

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