It turns out we’re not done with Washington’s birthday cake just yet.
Most people thought the controversy over a picture book called “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” ended on Jan. 17 when Scholastic announced that it would stop selling the book because of its sanitized vision of slavery.
But Friday afternoon, the National Coalition Against Censorship released a strong objection to Scholastic’s decision to pull the book written by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
“There are books that can — and should — generate controversy,” the organization said. “But 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, along with PEN American Center and the First Amendment Committee of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, warned that books often inspire objections and calls for censorship because they feature “lesbian, gay and transgender characters” or because they promote ideas that certain groups find offensive. If publishers get in the habit of withdrawing books that raise objections, other books may find it difficult to secure publishers and ensure their distribution.
The statement goes on to say: “While it is perfectly valid for critics to dispute a book’s historical accuracy and literary merit, the appropriate response is not to withdraw the volume and deprive readers of a chance to evaluate the book and the controversy for themselves.”
The NCAC claims that “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” has served a valuable purpose in promoting discussion about how Americans represent and remember slavery.
The statement concludes by warning, “This outcome is likely to have a chilling effect, leading authors and illustrators to hesitate in taking on racially sensitive or politically controversial topics for fear of public outcry and reprisals. Pulling books out of circulation simply because they cause controversy is the wrong decision.”