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Scholastic withdraws children's book over 'false impression' of slavery

By Marilyn Malara   |   Jan. 18, 2016 at 11:09 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Scholastic has stopped the distribution of a children's book which recently came under fire for propagating a misleading image of slavery, the company announced.

The book titled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton has been criticized for not accurately explaining the "complex and controversial" issue of slavery in the book, leading to "a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves," the book distributor said in a statement Sunday.

About 87 percent of reviewers on Amazon have rated the children's book with one star, some calling it "horrible," "insulting," and "not historically or morally accurate." As of Monday, the book had an overall one-and-a-half star rating and is "not recommended," by the School Library Journal.

The publisher's description of the book 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 a problem -- they are out of sugar."

In Sunday's announcement, Scholastic touts the company's "long history" of teaching complicated issues such as slavery to children in ways they could understand but says A Birthday Cake fails to meet "the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children."

In a CBC Diversity blog post discussing the book, published last week, author Ganeshram said the book's main character, Hercules -- a real person -- is written from "four years of research I did with the aid of historians, largely, at the National Park Service's President's House site in Philadelphia, where my story is set."

"Yet the discussion and criticism of the book has, instead, been focused on the literal face value of the characters. How could they smile? How could they be anything but unrelentingly miserable? How could they be proud to bake a cake for George Washington?" Ganesh continues in the post.

"The answers to those questions are complex because human nature is complex," she said.

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