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A Birthday Cake for George Washington facts for kids

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A Birthday Cake for George Washington
GW Birthday Cake Book.jpg
Author Ramin Ganeshram
Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's fiction
Published 2016 by Scholastic Press
Pages 32
ISBN 978-0-545-53823-7

A Birthday Cake for George Washington is a children's book published by Scholastic and first released on January 5, 2016. Written by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, it is narrated by Delia, the daughter of Hercules, one of George Washington's slaves who worked for him as a cook. The book tells the story of Hercules and Delia baking a birthday cake for Washington. Scholastic pulled the book on January 17, 2016 in response to criticisms over illustrations depicting an overly-positive portrayal of slavery.


Scholastic withdrew the book on January 17, 2016 following this criticism. In a statement, the publisher said:

Scholastic has a long history of explaining complex and controversial issues to children at all ages and grade levels. We do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children, despite the positive intentions and beliefs of the author, editor, and illustrator.

Reaction to withdrawal

The decision to withdraw the book was criticized by anti-censorship activists like the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the PEN American Center, which released a statement saying that "Those who value free speech as an essential human right and a necessary precondition for social change should be alarmed whenever books are removed from circulation because they are controversial". The NCAC's statement also defended the book by saying that it had helped promote discussion about how Americans remember slavery. Scholastic responded to this statement by accusing both the NCAC and PEN of not correctly reading Scholastic's initial statement, and asserting that the book was withdrawn "not in response to criticism, but entirely and purposefully because this title did not meet our publishing standards" although Scholastic, not the author, or illustrator, was solely in charge of the publishing process.

In an interview with the Associated Press, the author responded to the public outcry and withdrawal of the book, stating that she had continually voiced concerns about the “over jovial” depiction of the enslaved characters but that she had been repeatedly ignored by the publisher. The book’s editor Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton did not respond for requests for comment from the Associated Press.

Farah Mendlesohn wrote that the decision by Scholastic to withdraw the book was product recall, not censorship, and argued that if "it is acceptable and “free speech” to turn [the story of Hercules] into a happy little story about a slave serving his master joyfully, then I look forward to Scholastic producing a bright little picture book called The Children’s Choir of Terezin."

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