Scholastic pulls Happy Slave book from distribution. But who thought this was a good idea?

Warning: This post will probably make you all ragey. is not responsible for any rooms you may trash as a result.

Scholastic publishing house, the people who gave us Harry Potter and too-many-to-count school book fairs have been forced to pull the book A Birthday Cake for George Washington from distribution because of the uproar over the book’s depiction of slaves happily serving their master.

“…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can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.”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 book portrays George Washington’s cook, a slave named Hercules as he lovingly labors over a cakes for his massa’s birthday with the help of his daughter Delia. The slaves working in the kitchens are drawn as happy, cheerful people delighted to serve their prestigious master.

The problem is Hercules and Delia were real people, real SLAVES. Real people held in bondage against their will. While they may have taken some pride in their work, we know for a fact they weren’t happy. Hercules ran away from Mount Vernon on GW’s 65th birthday. In other words, he wasn’t no happy slave baking a cake for his benevolent master, he was hauling ass out of there.

The need to pull this book become very clear upon reading the comments on Scholastic’s Facebook post. There really are people out there who think slavery wasn’t all the bad. Here a few samples:

No matter how abhorrent slavery was and how immoral it is to hold anyone under the control of another person, the fact is MANY slaves were not physically abused and were considered part of the family. There is no argument that slavery is an evil, but in the cultural context of the time, it’s false to say that every one was brutalized or even unhappy, Many former slaves STAYED with the households they were formerly held in AFTER emancipation. So how is it historically accurate to never present those aspects?

Because there were a few slave who were not abused, we should be OK with this book. Problem: GW did whip his slaves, check out this account of Charlotte, a uppity seamstress owned by Martha who was whipped by GW’s farm boss. GW told his manager that his treatment of Charlotte, i.e. the whipping,  was “very proper.”

Oh c’mon. It’s a kids book. How politically correct are we going to get. Things are just plain ridiculous. If you are going to go on after this book, you better get on over to the library and get to work. Kids books are designed to promote interest and encourage finding out more info. It’s meant as a simple story.

A simple story that was far too simple to accurately portray the evils of enslaving other human beings. But hey that’s OK! Let’s skip all the complex stuff (it’s HARD) and teach the kids the simple stuff!

And my very favorite comment of all:

“…my very distant grandparents had a slave they loved so much that they buried her under their basement.

Dude, that’s how mass murders hide their victims, just sayin’.

I think the comments prove just how damaging books like this can be. It’s obvious from the controversy that a sizable chuck of the US population does not get it, slavery is BAD. Slaves were not happy. Giving inaccurate and overly simple books like this to children helps to undermine the horrors. Yeah, slaves sometimes were not miserable, but that still doesn’t mean being a slave was anything other than horrible and dehumanizing.

This is particularly bad when viewed in light of other recent “incidences” where slavery was downplayed.  For example a Texas textbook referred to the slaves as “workers” and too many people still think the Civil war wasn’t about slavery. In this context, this Happy Slave children’s book becomes nothing short of terrifying, it helps to remove the historical context for the racial issues that still haunt us today. How the heck are we going to move past racism if we don’t understand it?

I’ll end by pointing you to review of the book that I think is balanced but really shows why this book was a lousy idea. To quote,

“The last image in the book, the paternalistic arm of our Founding Father around one of his “slaves” simply adds to the myth of George Washington. I critically asked myself for whom this book is written and I think it’s written for a multitude of young readers to show them the greatness of this black man. However, this greatness is delusional because the most important part of his story is missing.”

And that is the problem. Scholastic admitted it and rightfully pulled the book.

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