In a statement made on January 17th, Scholastic Inc. announced that it would discontinue distribution of the new picture book A Birthday Cake for George Washington, written by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, after concerns were raised by educators, book reviewers, and librarians about the depiction of “smiling slaves” and a perceived sugarcoating of a tragic but important aspect of the United States history. Similar concerns were brought up last year in regards to the picture book A Fine Dessert written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. (The book was published by Schwartz & Wade books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.) Once A Fine Dessert was noted on The Horn Book as being a contender for the Caldecott award various educators brought up their dismay that slavery wasn’t referenced at all in this book depicting the making of the blackberry fool dessert over four centuries and different families through time. The author of A Fine Dessert apologized for this discrepancy on the website Reading While White and went on to donate her advance to the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books. Schwartz & Wade made no public comment in relation to the book.
Prior to A Birthday Cake For George Washington’s release there was a post on Kirkus by the teen/children’s book editor Vicky Smith noting [the] similar depiction of “smiling slaves” in this text being a similar cause for discussion as it was to A Fine Dessert. In her post Smith pondered whether there’d be similar dismay brought up on this book because the editor, author, and illustrator are all people of color when one of the largest arguments for Dessert was why no one in the marginalized community may have seen this book prior to its publication to hopefully vet and raise concerns on the depiction of slavery and also the lack of naming this institution outside of the author and illustrator notes in the back. While A Fine Dessert wasn’t a best-seller nor did it end up on any of the ALA Youth Media Award lists there was also defense of the book on Sophie Blackall’s blog. Both A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington illustrate the history of the making of a dessert in history. In the case of George Washington it reflects the perspective of Delia watching her father Hercules, head kitchen slave, as he figures out how to prepare the president’s favorite dessert without sugar.
Link to the rest at Forbes and thanks to J.A. for the tip.