Just In Time for MLK Day, Scholastic Releases a Children’s Book About George Washington’s Happy Slaves

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When I was a kid I loved getting lost in a good book. From the Judy Blume to the Babysitters Club, if it was printed between two covers I probably read it growing up. My love of reading extended clear through high school where I fell in love with Toni Morrison, bell hook, James Baldwin, and the Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Once I discovered Black authors my life changed…and I haven’t looked back since. Now that I have a son, I go out of my way to find really good children’s books with Black characters, but we’ll definitely be skipping Scholastic’s latest offering, A Birthday Cake for George Washington. 

First, let’s check out how Scholastic described the book:

Everyone is buzzing about the president’s birthday! Especially George Washington’s servants, who scurry around the kitchen preparing to make this the best celebration ever. 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 one problem — they are out of sugar. This story, told in the voice of Delia, Hercules’s young daughter, is based on real events, and underscores the loving exchange between a very determined father and his eager daughter, who are faced with an unspoken, bittersweet reality. No matter how delicious the president’s cake turns out to be, Delia and Papa will not taste the sweetness of freedom.

Now, let’s see what Andrea Davis Pinkney, VP and executive editor of Scholastic Trade Publishing, had to say about it:

The topic of slavery is one that must be handled with the utmost care, especially in the form of visual depictions, historical references, dialogue, and characterizations in books for young readers. In A Birthday Cake for George Washington the lives of enslaved people ― and the complex inequities of their bondage ― play a key role in the narrative. Through carefully curated research, A Birthday Cake for George Washington presents an important slice of American history. It is based on the true story of Hercules, the president’s cook. Hercules was one of over 300 African Americans enslaved by George and Martha Washington. Even though he was a slave, everyone knew and admired Hercules ― especially the president!

While Pinkney tries to put a positive spin on the book, and Washington’s supposed admiration for Hercules (uh, someone he owned), a reviewer for the School Library Journal called the book “highly problematic” and a “troubling depiction of American slavery.”

Brantley-Newton’s colorful, cartoon-style double-page illustrations, combined with the light tone of the text, convey a feeling of joyfulness that contrasts starkly with the reality of slave life. 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.

And herein lies the rub. Though it’s important to teach children about America’s history, what we don’t need to do is sugarcoat the horrors and realities of slavery by perpetrating the “happy servants” myth and conveniently leaving out the part where the book’s beloved characters remain enslaved for the rest of their lives.

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  1. Wtf is this even?????!!!! I am so sick of this whitewashing white savioring mess… Hercules, his children, and any other black person would have even been allowed to be that close and hugged up like that. (Unless you count the times they raped and beat us) Like slaving for the master was a f***ing bonding exercise for father and daughter. What is this mess….

    1. I wonder why they don’t include the story about how ol’ georgie’s ‘false teeth’ were actually made from teeth ‘appropriated’ from those very same slaves…maybe Hercules should have put some arsenic in with that baking soda for his birthday THAT would have been a good story…maybe not for the kiddies ..but it would have done my heart good. Bastid.

    1. gurrl… I had to explain to my white professor why their relationship wasn’t romantic, when he referred to it as his favorite love story… who actually thinks you can have relationship with someone you own? SMH.

  2. This children’s book is a total disgrace. It shows historical revisionism and lies. George Washington was not some heroic figure of history. He was a slave owner, a racist, and a person with lax character. He was so disrespectful that he signed the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. This unjust law said that slave owners can kidnap slaves in any U.S. state. So, the real truth must be told about our history. This is why back decades ago, black activists fought for pro-black studies in colleges and universities nationwide (like during the late 1960’s and in the early 1970’s).

    This is why black people now are still fighting for accurate information to be placed in textbooks in Texas and in other states of America. Our history should never be whitewashed or sugarcoated by anyone. Hercules escaped. We are black people and our stories must be told accurately. When he or George was alive, he never emancipated slaves on his plantation immediately. Slavery was never some picnic. It was brutal, black people were raped, black people were assaulted in cruel ways (in many cases in ways that I can’t mention here because of the graphic nature of it), and it was a heavily capitalistic enterprise (involving the North and the South). So, black children shouldn’t read that book. Black children should read about Malcolm X, ancient African civilizations, sci-fi literature, great fictional forms of literature, books that deal with STEM fields, and other stimulating literature. Black children deserve to be told about the Beauty of their BLACKNESS.

    1. Speak on it Truthseeker, this is what I mean about Whiteness, it is like a pestering disease, it robs them of their humanity. They know good and damn well you can teach age appropriate history without sugar-coating and white-washing everything. They TRIED IT all in an effort for publicity and sales no doubt and to low key keep Black people feeling demeaned and dispirited. But we won’t stop.

      1. Hello Sister.

        Yes, we won’t stop, because we can’t stop. Scholastic messed with the wrong one when they are trying to promote their lie filled story about George Washington. There was nothing happy about slavery at all. The myth of the superiority of whiteness is being exposed. Many black people are waking up. Children have the right to be told accurate filled history. That book is racist and it mocks the suffering of black people as you have stated. You are dropping jewels too Sister. 🙂

          1. You’re Welcome Sister. Their time is certainly up. We believe in caring for our families, loving our culture, and believing in justice. You’re so Sweet. Fighting oppression is part of our birthrights as human beings.

          2. Goodnight My Friend

            Have a great Weekend and Enjoy the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

        1. Yes-but that is what I mean by whiteness–it extends beyond one’s individual race. White Supremacy reaches across and chokes the life out of everyone and everything in its path.

    2. You’re wrong about GW not being a hero. Whatever else he may have been, he was a BRILLIANT general who liberated us from the British crown. As for him being a slaveholder, do not forget that our African ancestors were too, and the reason we arrived here as slaves is that they were willing to sell their own kinfolk.

      My point? Let’s be the best people we can be now. Carrying hatred or racism is not consistent with that, and it isn’t good for us either. I’m hearing a whole lot of hate here and while you may feel it’s justified, God has made it crystal clear that it’s not.

      1. I stand by my words 100 percent. We will have to agree to disagree about George Washington. He was not a hero. Many dictators were brilliant generals and that doesn’t mean that all dictators are heroes. He or George (who was losing a lot of battles during the Revolutionary War until he received help from France, Spain, etc. I don’t believe in British imperialism or the British Crown. I don’t agree with American imperialism either) wasn’t a hero, because he enslaved people and slavery is evil regardless of who does it. He wasn’t a hero since he signed the Fugitive Slave Act that gave power to maintain slavery. He wasn’t a hero since he was a white supremacist, a slave owner, and a racist. He never immediately freed the slaves that he unjustly oppressed in his plantation. Also, white people originated the Maafa and the inter-continental slave trade not black people. A few white people organized the slave routes, built the ships, invented the Triangular Trade system, created the unjust laws had increased slavery, and used political plus economic tactics to establish the Maafa in the first place. Sellout Africans were involved, but most Africans were never involved in the origination and implementation of the Maafa. Black Africans have fought against the Maafa since its inception.

        Also, exposing George Washington’s evil actions is not being hateful. It is not about being racist. That is being historically accurate. That story sugarcoats the international war crime of slavery inflicted on black people. God is not about placing things under the rug like a disgraceful children’s book that whitewashes slavery. I am justified to have a zeal for justice, to advocate Black Unity, to advocate Black Love, and to believe in the truth fully. It is justified for people to advocate real black history too.

        1. The self hatred is real with that one, either this person isnt black or they’re a straight up coon. Africans sold some slaves to yt not understanding what slavery was in the U.S but alot were also kidnapped, these idiots never address that part though.

          1. Self hatred is a serious problem in the world indeed Sister.

            Good Afternoon.

            It’s never a dull moment here. Also, the white supremacists invented the Maafa. No one should glamorize a slave owning racist hypocrite like George. You’re exactly right. This is why black youth need to be told the truth about slavery. Black Africans fought against oppression for a long time. Also, the skeptics ignore how slavery was extremely brutal in the Caribbean, Latin America, Mexico, and in South America.

      2. I think you missed the point. George Washington is being glorified in this book in a way that makes children believe he was some kind of saint. He was not. He did not help to free US from the British because WE were still being OWNED by the British! Furthermore your statement about Africans selling Africans is irrelevent to this discussion. Or, perhaps you know of children’s books which glorify Europen Feudalism and show how happy and loyal serfs were to their landowners…

      3. You know, I hate when I see that sorry line “Africans sold each other to slavers” as some sort of excuse. Your statement was wholly incorrect since only 15-20% of slaves brought to the New World from Africa were bought or traded as prisoners of war ( they weren’t ” their own kinfolk” they were members of warring tribes that were captured and then sold by the captors…most of the time they were not even of the same ethnic group). So if you remove those, a whopping 80-85% of slaves would have STILL come to the new world through the actions of slave catchers, who raided villages and KIDNAPPED Africans from their homes. Don’t get it twisted…we would have certainly come here without the help of other Africans.

        Sorry you have bought that line from the many whites I hear spew it whenever slavery is mentioned… But you may wanna read up on it or take a black history class before coming up here and doling out misinformation.

          1. Do you really believe ” help from Africans” was a necessary component of the trans Atlantic trade? You are so naive if you really think there weren’t European slave catchers who absolutely raided and kidnapped slaves…lots of them. Where the hell do you get that every African brought here was with the “help” of another African?

  3. They like to start this shit when they are young and know no better. Yeah Happy slaves is the way to go. Who the fuck commissioned this bullshit to be put on shelves. Fuck that burn the books I would and it is needed. Buy the whole lot and set them a light, and proclaim this is for the good of the children. Wow indoctrination has no boundaries with these melanin oppressed ding bats. If white people could erase their global terrorism tomorrow they would do it.

    1. Same thing with mr. declaration of independence/child molester, Thomas Jefferson..he didn’t even have the integrity to free most of his slaves before his death.Well, except for the ones that he created with Sally Hemings.

      1. Actually, Washington did plan on eventually freeing his slaves. In his will, he stipulated that his slaves were to be freed after Martha died. Well, knowing that the only thing keeping them from freedom was a living Martha, George’s slaves started setting random fires at Mt. Vernon. Martha saw the writing the on the wall and let them go. It was no sweat off her back anyway, because she came to Mt. Vernon with slaves from her first marriage.

  4. This book couldn’t have been that carefully researched, because Hercules fled Mt. Vernon and left Delia behind. The only reason why the author/publisher probably even knows about Hercules is because he was mentioned in the diary of King Louis Philippe I of France. Louis Philippe wrote a note sympathizing with Washington about how much it must have sucked for him to find out that his favorite cook (Hercules) escaped on his birthday. We learned this in school, and I went to a white ass school. So, yeah, this is some real ass revisionist f***ery.

    You know, this is the second time in as many years that a kids book like this has come out. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the children’s book, “A Fine Dessert.” Google it. It’s about generations of Americans from different eras fawning over a blackberry fool. So, in the book, the black family is a slave family, and they’re portrayed as a happy, wait staff, and on one page, the white family sits at the table in their finery, juxtaposed next to the little slave girl eating the dessert in the closet, just a smiling. “A Fine Dessert” became a pretty big controversy in the children’s book publishing world last year. So, for this to happen again, so soon is extremely tone deaf and offensive.

    1. The only thing black people refer to as an accomplishment is naming a new road after a dead agitator named Martin Luther King.
      Yes, MLK would be so proud. Today 8/10 black people are on Government assistance (reparations) for the ENTIRETY of their lives.
      Yep, MLK’s dream has become a reality. hahahahahaha

  5. What kind of white foolishness is this? Scholastic needs to be called out for this, these books should never be released to young school children. This is how lies are spread about slavery when whites are in charge of our history.

  6. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
    My, oh, my, what a wonderful day
    Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way
    Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!

    Mister Bluebird’s on my shoulder
    It’s the truth, it’s “actch’ll”
    Everything is “satisfactch’ll”

  7. Man, OH MAN! I would be down with a book about Hercules plotting to kill ole master on his birthday. But this FUCKERY go me all in a daze.

    Now this shit has to stop. White people be telling lies to save their asses.

  8. White people are offended by a book about black people as slaves. I seriously can’t stop laughing. White people in the USA are a total joke.

  9. If you black people hate America so much, leave. Just go back to Africa and build your socialist utopian society. Should be entertaining.

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