Scholastic Books and Random House have scraped the bottom of the racist revisionist history barrel with their new children's books, A Birthday Cake for George Washington and A Fine Dessert, respectively. Tens of thousands of Americans are marching, writing, voting, occupying, climbing flagpoles and even dying to illustrate the importance of facing our truths and rectifying our past, and current, wrongs. But not at Scholastic and Random House. No, they're busy revising history and spoonfeeding our children lies about happy slaves hellbent on pleasing their massas.
There are a lot of steps required to publish a book. Authors, illustrators, agents, editors, graphic artists, publicists and more meet to discuss the life cycle of a book. Every aspect is examined - what the book represents, who it will be marketed to, how it will be publicized, when it will be released, whether the author will tour, hardcover or soft, color or black and white, large or small, this font or that. So how did these books make it out of the piles of manuscripts received and stacked in the corners of cubicles and offices? Who looked at these and said, "Yes, let's make America great again!"
No one at meeting after meeting had the gumption to pull the plug on these projects. No one stood up and said, "Hey, this is historically inaccurate!" Hercules, the slave featured in A Birthday Cake for George Washington, escaped during one of Washington's birthday celebrations! He wasn't parading around bragging, "I sho did put ma foot in dat birfday cake!" No, he was busy getting away from a President who was so set on keeping his slaves, he was knowingly violating Pennsylvania state law by rotating his slaves out every six months to keep from having to free them.
No one said, "Uh, do you have an apology ready? You're going to need one. Along with an organization that promotes diversity in children's literature that you can contribute to so our apology seems sincere." No one asked, "Are we doing our next children's book on the joys of serving the Nazis during the Holocaust?" They should have. They should have asked all these questions and more. Obviously, they're all tone deaf or scared of the massas on their plantations. Even having high level, experienced Black editors, illustrators and other people of color on these projects resulted in no wisdom or consolation. They were given the task of burying feeble explanations and justifications in authors notes and on publishers' websites that certainly most children, parents and educators would never read. No, they'd just be left with the warmth of ear-to-ear grins of satisfied slaves, so happy massa and missus are pleased.
How do we stop these lies? Bad publicity and financial impact are the only things to which these behemoths respond. Here's the plan:
1. Write Random House and Scholastic Books on Facebook, Twitter, and all other social media. Repeatedly. Let them know you won't buy their books or support their book fairs until there is a public apology and a recall. Money talks.
2. Start and sign online petitions. Numbers have meaning.
3. Post negative reviews on your timeline and ask all your friends to repost. Share with social media groups if you are a member. Engage every group, parent, librarian, educator and child you can.
We can end this. We're taught to train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. They're counting on this, perpetuating happy, docile slaves intent on nothing more than pleasing massas. I'm counting on conscious, sensitive, proactive, informed, engaged honest people intent on developing children of all races with similar characteristics.
Note: On January 18, Scholastic announced its intention to pull "A Birthday Cake for George Washington." “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,” the children’s publisher said in a statement released to the AP. Powerful trade publications were vocal in their damnation. The School Library Journal had called it “highly problematic” and recommended against its purchase. , Kirkus Reviews labeled the book “an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery.”
Similarly “A Fine Dessert,” written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, was criticized for its cheerful depiction of a 19th-century slave mother and daughter as they prepared a blackberry recipe. Jenkins apologized, saying that her book, which she “intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive.” (“A Fine Dessert,” released by the Random House imprint Schwartz & Wade, remains in print.)