A children’s book published by Scholastic depicting “happy and joyful” enslaved people has stirred outrage amongst both parents and educators.
A Birthday Cake for George Washington by Ramin Ganeshram and Vanessa Brantly-Newton is the story of Hercules, the President’s head chef, as he attempts to bake Washington a cake for his birthday celebration. The story, as told by Hercules’ daughter Delia, takes a turn for the worse as Hercules discovers there is no sugar in the cupboard.
An excerpt from the book reads:
Everyone’s 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’re out of sugar.
The book claims it is based on true events. The front flap of the book states:
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 don’t have the seethes of freedom.
Hercules was not in fact a “happy or joyful” enslaved person, he actually escaped to freedom on February 22, 1797 – Washington’s 65th birthday – which the president celebrated in Philadelphia. According to a diary entry of Louis-Philippe, the future king of the French:
The general’s cook ran away, being now in Philadelphia, and left a little daughter of six at Mount Vernon. Beaudoin ventured that the little girl must be deeply upset that she would never see her father again; she answered, “Oh! Sir, I am very glad, because he is free now.
The contents of the book became viral on Facebook as educators and parents criticized the revisionist history. Teaching for Change posted on their Facebook page:
Believe it or not, a new 2016 children’s book from Scholastic features a story about “happy slaves” who are pleased to cook a cake for President George Washington.
The children’s book currently has 45% 1 star on Amazon.com