From the Associated Press:
The author of a children’s book pulled last month because of its smiling depiction of slaves says she herself objected to the illustrations and had expressed early concerns with the publisher, Scholastic.
In her first interview since Scholastic withdrew “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” less than two weeks after it was published, Ramin Ganeshram also told The Associated Press that she and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton had little communication and essentially worked separately.
“The public does not know that the authors (of picture stories) are not in full control of their books,” she said. “The public feels if you write the book, the book is yours and you make the decisions. But in children’s publishing at least, that is entirely untrue. Authors and illustrators often do not speak, or interact. I never had a conversation with Vanessa, just a few tweets.”The Washington book was published Jan. 5 and set off a wave of criticism from reviewers, and on social media and Amazon.com, where 270 out of 371 reader reviews were one star as of Thursday morning. Scholastic initially defended “A Birthday Cake,” which centers on Washington’s head chef, the slave Hercules. But on Jan. 17, it halted publication, explaining in a statement that the book “may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves.”Ganeshram says she was informed of the decision by her editor, Andrea Davis Pinkney.
“And I said to her, ‘As you know, I have always had issues with these illustrations,'” Ganeshram said.
. . . .
Ganeshram said that she emailed Pinkney last spring, objecting to the “over-joviality” of some the illustrations and adding that a recent picture book, Emily Jenkins’ “A Fine Dessert,” had been rightly criticized for similar reasons.
“And I said, ‘When can I start speaking to Vanessa? I would like to send some research material.’ And the editor told me, ‘Authors and illustrators don’t interact,'” Ganeshram said.
An award-winning journalist and author born to a Trinidadian father and Iranian mother, the 47-year-old Ganeshram noted that the book was considered offensive despite the diversity of those who worked on it.
Link to the rest at the Associated Press and thanks to Bill for the tip.
PG says the managers, editors and publicists at Scholastic must be living on an island below the Antarctic Circle to have failed to forsee this type of problem.
These self-proclaimed curators of culture have effectively destroyed the brand equity which Ms. Ganeshram had built up in her name.
Should Ms. Ganeshram approach a publisher with another book, does anyone doubt that her Scholastic disaster will be remembered and factor into any sane publisher’s decision about the book? Who wants to risk more bad publicity by associating themselves with an author who has an awkward past, regardless of whether the problems were her fault or not?
PG says the lesson for authors of any sort of picture or illustrated book is to include in their publishing agreements both the right to review illustrations prior to publishing and the right to disapprove any illustrations the author doesn’t like.
PG will not speculate about whether Ms. Ganeshram has a basis for suing Scholastic for damages to her reputation and adverse impacts on her future earnings, but he hopes she has.
What about publishing malpractice? After all, almost any person or organization that holds themselves out as a professional – lawyers, law firms, doctors, hospitals, chiropractors, podiatrists, tanning salons, etc. – can be sued for professional malpractice. One question which comes to mind is whether Scholastic is a professional publisher with expertise in its field of endeavor or an amateur.