The instructional and educational materials company announced today that it will no longer release the books about happy slaves it released a week before Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s birthday.
An Atlanta teacher and blogger Kia Morgan Smith, of Cincomom.com, was among those behind a successful campaign to yank the books “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” and “Happy Birthday Mr. President“.
The problem? Both books centered on a reportedly true tale about George Washington‘s head chef Hercules, who is portrayed in the books as a jovial and happy character despite the fact he is a slave.
The books were both illustrated by a famed African American artist Vanessa Brantly-Newton and edited by an African American woman Andrea Davis-Pinkney. (Both who have released wonderful books featuring African American children and families that we love)
American author Ramin Ganeshram, who is of Trinidad and Iranian heritage, wrote both books.
The vibe of the stories, Morgan Smith said, was revisionist in that they portrayed slavery as an era that was “not that bad.”
“Slaves were not happy,” the petition reads. “Slavery is not a HAPPY event no matter which way you slice it! Slavery can’t and won’t be NORMALIZED!”
In the books, Hercules, the real chef owned as a slave by George Washington, faced the dilemma of making a cake for Washington’s birthday after discovering he was out of sugar. The story is told from the perspective of Hercules’ young daughter Delia.
But despite the happy spin the book places on the “loving exchange between a very determined father and his eager daughter,” Hercules was not indeed happy to be a slave. In fact, though not explained in the books, he ran away in February 1797 and left his 6-year old daughter behind who would never see her dad again, the petition notes. Not a “happy” tale at all.
The petition, which eventually grew to over 1800 signatures in two short days, garnered tons of attention and support in social media and was even the subject of a SheKnows.com article.
Morgan states she was moved to act after reading an article about the books in Clutch.com. That piece highlighted one reviewer who encapsulated well the problem with the books:
One spread depicts dancing feet and the hems of fancy dresses and shoes of the white revelers at the very top of the page. Hercules, Delia, and the other slaves are seen in the kitchen below, smiling with glee as they work on the cake, evoking a strangely cheerful and exuberant scene reminiscent of a Disney film. Later, when Washington congratulates Hercules on a job well done, Hercules responds, “An honor and a privilege, sir.” Young readers without sufficient background knowledge about the larger context of American slavery may come away with a dangerously rosy impression of the relationship between slaves and slave owners, and those with a deeper understanding are likely to find this depiction offensive. (emphasis added)
One book received more than 100 one-star reviews on Amazon.com and the trade publication School Library Journal called it “highly problematic” and recommended against its purchase, a NY Daily News report about the book reported.
Well, it’s all over now. The petition, media and social media out-roar was a success. Today, Scholastic announced that it will not be further distributing the books. Fox and CBS news covered the reversal.
“Scholastic has a long history of explaining complex and controversial issues to children at all ages and grade levels,” the company’s statement read. “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.”
However, before it was yanked, it became the #1 best seller children’s book despite the overwhelming number of 1 star reviews. We suspect purchased, significantly as well, by people who are offended by the “political correctness” of people being offended by this book. * Dizzy *
And that was that.