Scholastic recently learned that not all stories should be told—unless you want to deal with resulting consumer criticism.
The publisher pulled a book from stores and is offering refunds to those who purchased it because it depicts a falsely positive view of American slavery.
Ramin Ganeshram’s book, “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” tells the story of “head chef” Hercules, who, along with his daughter, Delia, is trying to
bake a cake for the president.
The book’s storyline and illustrations give a rosy view of what it was like to be a slave.
Its Amazon reviews are brutal, with 77 percent of the nearly 300 reviewers giving it just one star. Here are a few lowlights:
“A troubling depiction of American slavery.”
“An insulting tale that sprinkles glitter on rape, murder, torture and servitude.”
“… This is just wrong on so many levels.”
“It’s like Anne & Otto Frank baking cookies for Adolf Hitler on Christmas.”
Scholastic got the message—loud and clear.
On Sunday, it announced that it would pull the book. Here’s an excerpt from Scholastic’s statement, which was published in full on its blog:
Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington,
by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and will accept all returns. 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provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.
Scholastic has a long history of explaining complex and controversial issues to children at all ages and grade levels. 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
Free download: How organizational newsrooms and content platforms have evolved and intersected.
Scholastic also shared its statement on Facebook:
Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the picture book A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON. Please read the full statement here.
Posted by Scholastic on Sunday, January 17, 2016
Ganeshram refused to go quietly after having her book pulled. She wrote in a blog post that her book is based on four
years of research and that “Hercules was famous in his day as a towering culinarian—admired and in-charge, despite his bondage.”
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? 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.
Ganeshram makes an interesting point later in the blog. The common narrative in today’s society is that of “constant-cruelty,” and any deviation from that
could potentially “diminish the horror of slavery.”
The criticism around Ganeshram’s book, the author suggests, stems from an inability to house both sides of the situation in our minds.
How do you think Scholastic and Ganeshram handled this situation, PR Daily readers?