December 7, 2016

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Emily Jenkins Apologizes for “A Fine Dessert”

Describing her book as “racially insensitive,” author Emily Jenkins took to the web Sunday morning to apologize for her picture book A Fine Dessert (Schwartz & Wade, 2015), announcing her intent to donate her writing fee to We Need Diverse Books, which has been confirmed by the organization.

Jenkins’s apology—in a comment on the blog “Reading While White”—followed criticism of the story about four families set across 400 years making the same dessert, blackberry fool. One portion of the book depicted a smiling slave mother and her daughter in 1810.

A Fine Dessert cover“As the author of A Fine Dessert, I have read this discussion and the others with care and attention,” Jenkins writes in her comment. “I have come to understand that my book, while intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive. I own that and am very sorry.”

Jenkins commented on a October 31 “Reading While White post.” In it, contributor Megan Schliesman, addresses her coming to terms with the initial enthusiasm she felt for Jenkins’s book, transforming into a deeper understanding of how the images of the mother and daughter could “be seen as perpetuating painful imagery of ‘happy’ slaves,’” she wrote.

Reaction to the Jenkins apology was immediate, with additional comments thanking the author for her courage and willingness to both listen to the criticism and act on it.

A Fine Dessert has received multiple positive reviews, including this one from School Library Journal. The New York Times named the book to its recently announced Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2015 list.

Yet the book has met with other comments that questioned the choice to portray slavery as “unpleasant but not horrendous,” wrote librarian Elisa Gall on the blog “trybrary” in a post titled, “A Fine Dessert: Sweet Intentions, Sour Aftertaste.” Debbie Reese, editor and publisher of the “American Indians in Children’s Literature” blog, stated that the story “provides children with a glossy view of this country and its history that is, in short, a lie about that history.”

Kathleen T. Horning, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center and a contributor to Reading While White, says that her organization highlighted the book on its website.  But as Horning followed the ensuing discussion and criticism, “we began to reconsider our choice with that new information,” she says. “And frankly we were all embarrassed that we hadn’t noticed the problem ourselves which was the images of the happy slaves.”

After seeing Jenkins’ apology, Horning says that she hopes the post would serve as a future model—not for every author to apologize, but to listen to the thoughts and comments of how their work is read, understood, and impacting readers around them.

“I can see why people are still angry about this book,” she says. “I think what [Jenkins] did is laudable because she is listening to what people are saying.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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Comments

  1. Is Emily Jenkins donating all royalties from the book as well?

  2. Terri Street says:

    I admit I have not read A Fine Dessert. But without having seen the actual illustration in question, I for one am a bit upset that so many people find a slave mother smiling at her daughter offensive. Yes, slavery was a horrible institution. Yes, slaves’ lives were harsh and brutal. Yes, it was a horrendous injustice. But that said, is it so hard to believe that a slave mother never smiled at the beautiful face of a beloved child? Never found joy in any aspect of life? I find it much more probable that a slave mother would have taken great joy in her children, for without a bit of joy there can be no hope, and without hope people wither and die.

    • Terri, I agree with you and think that is a very valid point. I’ve read the book and it is popular in our library and I don’t think patrons are looking at and seeing it in that light nor do I think children are jumping to the conclusion that slavery was a “happy” thing because a mom is smiling at her child.

  3. Mary Ann Miller says:

    I agree with Terri. Of course slaves were happy sometime. To say different is an injustice to them. Yes, that is a black spot in our history. But strong people see joy in simple places and times. I think people are so busy tripping over themselves trying to be “sensitive” and “politically correct” that we forget what the real meaning of the book was. The book paints us all as belonging across the gaps of race., or interest, or religion, or…….the list can go on.

    • How can you honestly say that to say differently is an injustice to them? To take the matter any lighter than absolutely appalling is what is in fact doing an injustice to them. Yes a mother might be happy to see her child, but do you think that that child would not continuously resonate pain within her as well? Knowing at any moment you or your child could be subjected to the horrors of slavery: the whippings, the murders, the torture and the general disregard to human life…not to mention the over-obvious fact of free unregulated labor. Knowing that your child’s childhood has been ripped away from them and you are completely powerless to help. Knowing no matter what you cannot save your child from their damned situation. Do you honestly think someone can be “happy” in those circumstances? To wake up everyday, do absolutely nothing for you or your family before you are forced to do humiliating and self deprecating acts for others? To have no control over yourself and no abilities to help the ones you love, but of course a simple thing like some sweet jam will take all of that pain away right? Because those slaves were such simple people, from what I can gather from your opinion since they must have been happy sometime. This is not a politically correctness nor is it a sensitivity issue. This is an issue with misrepresenting facts to make it wasn’t so bad. It’s like saying, “Yeah I know it really sucked that slaves worked so much, but they were happy sometimes…and I know they were beat and killed and experimented on and stolen from their families and tortured and had no human value…but they were happy sometimes.” I am sorry, I will not devalue their suffering by assuming they were happy. As the trite saying goes “a caged bird does not sing,” and no matter the moment a human being would never be “happy” in captivity. A restless soul locked away in unjust subordination, doomed to die before ever tasting human life or true happiness.

      • Florence C. Alvarez says:

        Actually, the saying is, ‘I know why the caged bird sings.’

        • No, that’s the title of Maya Angelou’s famous memoir– which was written in reference to (or perhaps in response to) the idiom which Katelyn quotes.

        • Florence: This is the response you chose to post after this impassioned, articulate statement? What purpose do your words serve? What relevance do they have to anything? Your lack of empathy and total arrogance take my breath away. Good grief. And thank you Olivia, for the clarification.

      • God bless you for articulating my thoughts and feelings so eloquently. Well done.
        There was never and will never be one single positive thing about slavery.

      • Shalom says:

        I was a student of Emily Jenkins at NYU. On one hand, she’s a writing genius, but on the other hand she is “very” bitchy. She came across as pretentious, and even a little mean to a bunch of innocent freshman. I remember telling her I was elected class artist in high school, and her reaction was something along the lines of “what the f**ck is that?” It was really mean. I don’t know if she was jealous of a me, pretty 18 year old, or if she came from a cold family (her pops is a playwright.) or went to Vasser College or what. I think this book is seriously detrimental in it’s portrayal of slavery. I hope Emily is not a racist, she did not seem that way, I mean we were at a totally liberal school. But I think it was kind of an overlook that she’s too smart to do. I’m glad she is donating the funds, because slavery isn’t a joy ride, honey. It’s the one blot in American history that still reeks of horror. The Russians have Lenin, and America had it’s slaves. It get that here were good times and bad times, but this story needs to wake up.

    • How can you honestly say that to say differently is an injustice to them? To take the matter any lighter than absolutely appalling is what is in fact doing an injustice to them. Yes a mother might be happy to see her child, but do you think that that child would not continuously resonate pain within her as well? Knowing at any moment you or your child could be subjected to the horrors of slavery: the whippings, the murders, the torture and the general disregard to human life…not to mention the over-obvious fact of free unregulated labor. Knowing that your child’s childhood has been ripped away from them and you are completely powerless to help. Knowing no matter what you cannot save your child from their damned situation. Do you honestly think someone can be “happy” in those circumstances? To wake up everyday, do absolutely nothing for you or your family before you are forced to do humiliating and self deprecating acts for others? To have no control over yourself and no abilities to help the ones you love, but of course a simple thing like some sweet jam will take all of that pain away right? Because those slaves were such simple people, from what I can gather from your factually ignorant supposition that despite all of the facts they must have been happy sometimes. This is not a politically correctness nor is it a sensitivity issue. This is an issue with misrepresenting facts to make it wasn’t so bad. It’s like saying, “Yeah I know it really sucked that slaves worked so much, but they were happy sometimes…and I know they were beat and killed and experimented on and stolen from their families and tortured and had no human value…but they were happy sometimes.” I am sorry, I will not devalue their suffering by assuming they were happy. As the trite saying goes “a caged bird does not sing,” and no matter the moment a human being would never be “happy” in captivity. A restless soul locked away in unjust subordination, doomed to die before ever tasting human life or true happiness.

    • Would you be smiling if you were beaten and raped regularly? Would you be smiling if you were forced to do harsh labor and was denied your basic human rights? Would you be smiling if your children were taken from you and sold? Would you be smiling knowing your children were being raped and beaten, but you couldn’t do a damn thing about it because it would get you killed? Would you be happy if you didn’t have any freedom? People aren’t offended the enslaved woman was smiling at her daughter. The image of a happy slave gives a false representation of history that enslaved people were content with their condition and that slavery wasn’t brutal.

  4. Marsha Stewart says:

    Dear Colleagues,

    I believe the point of this whole discussion is that this beautiful book contains images of “free” people of European descent, but the only historical image of people of African descent are slaves. Why are those black people eating in the closet? Because slaves could serve white people, but they could not sit at the table with them. Were there no “free” people of color in 1810? Were all black people slaves? What do you think the take away is for children? It is easy to justify anything as an adult, but how do I explain this to my granddaughter? I do not want to offend anyone, but as a librarian that serves children of all backgrounds, I feel honor bound to set the record straight for all children and expose all stereotypes so that the children I teach today will become sensitive, empathetic, and caring adults who truly believe that ALL people deserve the same respect that they expect to receive. I am sure that this comment will enrage more people, but I am willing to take the chance. Let’s get past the personal sensitivity and step into the shoes of others just long enough to see the world through their eyes. Then take a look at this book.

    • Well said Marsha!

    • Marsha, I am writing to seek clarification – are you asking the author/illustrator to swap out the slaves with free Africans in the book? Or are you saying that this is historically accurate/plausible and thus the inclusion of the slaves is totally fine? You said, “as a librarian that serves children of all backgrounds, I feel honor bound to set the record straight for all children and expose all stereotypes so that the children I teach today will become sensitive, empathetic, and caring adults” — what do you consider as “setting the record straight”? Does it mean to show slavery as it was or to not show slavery at all in this book?

    • I have seen so much anger about this book from people who haven’t even read it. You would rather have only white people in this book? You want slavery treated as if it never even existed? If you want a book about slavery, write it! If you want a book that portrays free people of color in 1810–write it. If you want a brutal children’s book that shows the horrors of slavery–write it. This book is about a simple dessert and how it was made. Then how it was made 100 years later. Then 100 years after that, etc. It is beautiful and fascinating. The clothes people are wearing change. The house changes. The dishes change. Twigs that were used to whip the cream become electric beaters. From mother and daughter making it to Dad and son. If you want to teach history, teach it. If you want to fight against racial injustice, do so. But don’t channel all your anger into this book. Yes, a child will say.. why is that girl hiding in the closet and eating that dessert? Perfect time to talk about slavery. Or not. According to the child’s age and maturity level. Massacre this author and illustrator and what have you gained? More dull books with whites only in them? Why do we try to find something to be offended at at every turn?

      • I find it disturbing that some of you commenting are librarians defending false misrepresentations of slavery and wanting to show this book to kids. Would you show a book to kids that portrayed 9/11 as a happy day? No you wouldn’t. Why? Because that’s a false image of history and it’s disrespectful to the victims. This is a great example of why racism still exists in this country. People don’t want to discuss the truth or hear the truth so they sugarcoat history with lies and pretend like it never happened. But the problem never goes away. Some of you should watch and read Alex Haley’s Roots. Maybe you’ll learn something.

    • Many comments here are off base and show the writers have not read the book. This book is delicately nuanced in its portrayal of the slave mother and daughter. The girl smiles when her beating finally produces whipped cream. Otherwise, they do not smile while making the dessert and look meek while serving it. To have them hide in a cabinet to lick the bowl shows clearly that they were not free even to eat food they cooked themselves. It is a scene that is heartbreaking while being tender. Parents are protective of their children, and it makes sense that an enslaved mother would look for a way to share something nice with her daughter, even though it was hard for them. At the end of the book, the author shows a modern family in which a father and son, rather than mother and daughter, now make the dish, using modern tools, and invite a large, diverse group of friends to share it. The friends include African-Americans and a biracial couple. Everyone is shown having fun together as equals. I have thought about slavery and studied it extensively. Reading the transcripts of WPA interviews with former slaves about their lives as slaves is especially enlightening. Their experiences differed widely, depending largely on how their owners treated them. The horrors we hear of were real for many but not all, and the abuse was not unrelenting. Children did play, and people sang. That does not mean they were mindless simpletons. It means they were strong and resilient. Please, I am in no way saying that slavery was not horrible or that enslaved people did not suffer enormously. But if we cannot have portrayals of slaves in children’s literature, sadly that means there can be few depictions of African-Americans before 1863. They and their realities should not be erased from children’s literature. I cannot imagine how the author could have better addressed the injustice of this era while keeping it at a level acceptable for small children. I agree that this book might not be a good choice for a teacher to read to an entire class, especially an ethnically mixed one. That does not mean it is not valuable to be read one-on-one. Another children’s book, “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” has been in the news for similar reasons. It is more objectionable, and Scholastic was right stop selling it, I believe. I’m surprised it was ever published in the first place. But “A Fine Dessert” is a much better book. It is beautiful, in fact.

    • Deborah M Thomas says:

      Exactly, CocoaFly!! My question to the author is who are you donating your royalties to? This is a slap in the face of every African-American, Black, Negro, or Colored person in the US!!! How dare you write this mess when you have no clue of what the slavery experience was or remains in our society!!! We yet have to endure code language, and other subtle forms of bigotry like this piece you have written. This is a form of “dumbing down” society instead of telling the real truth about the horrors of slavery. When are you going to write a similar book about the Holocaust????

  5. Nan Stifel says:

    I am concerned that Jenkins’s apology has tainted this beautiful book. To depict a slave mother and daughter smiling while sharing a tender, secret moment together is not something that should be generalized as showing “happy slaves.” Jenkins could have offered an explanation or an appeal for deeper exploration of the story instead of caving to the critics. Illustrator Sophie Blackall, on the other hand, has offered a rational, thoughtful explanation of her illustrations, including how long and hard she thought about the smiles. A Fine Dessert is a wonderful book that can foster discussions among families, teachers, and students. I’m glad Blackall has Finding Winnie for the Caldecott committee to review, because now they won’t touch A Fine Dessert with a ten-foot pole. What a shame.

    • Amanda Saulsberry says:

      I’m very, very curious about this idea of this moment as “tender.” What gives you the idea that a slave woman and her child, hiding while trying to share the leftover bit of desert that their master left would be tender, rather than painful and frightening for both the child and the mother? White people are so eager to say what this moment would be like, but it is clear that you haven’t actually considered what it would be like to be in that slave’s shoes. To know that you and your daughter might be punished for this, not to mention the fact that this imagined slave and daughter narrative, wherein both are working in the kitchen, is VERY unlikely because slave families were separated as a matter of course.

      • Nan Stifel says:

        Oh, come on. of course I have considered what it would be like to be in that slave’s shoes, and I ask my students and colleagues to do the same. I still believe that a slave mother and daughter could share brief special moments together that are capable of producing smiles. I’m not alleging that they are happy.

        • I don’t think it is enough to ask your students to in the shoes of an enslaved person if you don’t know what that period was really like. I found those parts of the book unsettling and not ok, but it is from listening to the words of African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved that I’ve come to more fully see why that part of the book is so wrong.

          In particular, an African American woman commenting at Reading While White wrote that the mother was training her daughter for life AS a slave. That life was brutal. Including that life in this book about dessert? For me, easy to see why this is an affront to those most directly impacted then–and now–by slavery.

          At my site, I wrote about A FINE DESSERT and have been updating it daily. This morning, I added Daniel Jose Older’s video of remarks he gave at a panel this weekend. Blackall was on that panel, too, and they were talking about the book.
          http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2015/10/not-recommended-fine-dessert-by-emily.html

          I understand the impetus to defend the book and what the author/illustrator tried to do, but they tried to do that from an outsider space and defending it from that outsider space is another layer of ignoring the POV of those who are not part of the dominant power structure that put this book out there.

        • Amanda Saulsberry says:

          Children get so few images of black life and slavery. This image is not a realistic one, on various levels. I know that this is a debate, but not all representation is good representation. It feels like slavery with rose-colored glasses. That is why I have a problem with this content.

  6. Layla King says:

    If I were talented enough to write, I certainly wouldn’t put a toe in children’s literature. The last few years have had such volatile arguments. If whites write about blacks, we see backlash about their incomprehension of the subject, as well as a demand for more black writers. Must writers only write of their own ethnicity now? Would it have been better to have left the story of the slave and her daughter out of the book? We scream and demand diversity, but what does that mean? Is diversity only racial? Do we pick and choose the ‘diversity of the month?’ Transgender children are ok this week, but an overweight child isn’t? Is the only alternative to write only what you are actually, totally familiar with, either by birth or direct association? And who in the world tells other people what they should or should not write anyway? Just don’t read it, for heaven’s sake! I am so over reading anything suggested by bloggers or journalists. I will continue toread descriptions of new releases and use my own judgment. I would have missed some great books if I hadn’t done that in the last few years!

    • Well said Layla! I am overwhelmed by these articles and the book police that see hatred and insensitivity lurking in every corner. I want good stories, moving stories, funny stories, beautiful illustrations, quirky illustrations, stories that teach, stories that amuse and absurd ones. That is the diversity I’m looking for when I purchase books and when I read them. Let’s focus on that.

    • This actually isn’t that hard, Layla, and none of the strawmen you’re building are relevant to this situation. The people in this article said it themselves: this isn’t about white people writing about black people; it’s about creators and reviewers perpetuating a common white supremacist myth (that slavery wasn’t all that bad) and not realizing they’d done it. Obviously the author isn’t cool with surprise white supremacy, but the fact that she included some anyway indicates several failings — to do sufficient research, to interrogate her own glossy and superficial understanding of American history, to empathize with all of the book’s readers and not just the white ones. Doing these things is a writer’s job. It’s also a writer’s job to own it when they could’ve done something better, and when their mistakes have actually done harm — and that’s precisely what Jenkins has done here. Good.

      So maybe instead of using this as a chance to rail against people who expect historical children’s books to be historically accurate, you should respect this author’s competency and willingness to solve the problem she created.

      • Layla King says:

        Straw men? Railing? I see neither “building straw men” nor railing in my post. I’m sorry, I thought one could express their opinions here. I’ll be interested to see how soon Jenkins works on a similar project.

  7. Has their been a statement as to whether or not We Need Diverse Books will be accepting Emily’s donation?

  8. I wonder why some commenters are so reluctant to believe the author. This is a short article; they could not include all the nuances of the critiques of the book — although those are readily findable for anyone genuinely interested. The author found them, and paid attention, and learned from them. Are you assuming she was coerced? That she was insincere? Donating her royalties seems like a pretty good indication of sincerity to me.

  9. Debra Johnson says:

    The concept of slavery is introduced in association with dessert and smiles. Children might formulate many reasons to explain the illustration of a mother and daughter sharing the dessert in a closet. However, most will not guess that slaves were not allowed to consume the food they prepared. The problem is not the addition of diverse characters, but poor representation of the subject.

  10. It really puts a bad taste in my mouth that the apology included a donation to WNDB. This isn’t the first author who has done so to ameliorate criticism, and it strikes me almost as extortion money. Rather than donate to WNDB – run by the very people actively attacking the book – they should donate to other diversity promoting organizations. The WNDB crusading against a book until they get an apology and donation seems very unethical to me.

    • The above comment is a racist dog whistle. Just about anyone with even a passing familiarity with equal rights/civil rights movements or organizations no doubt recognizes the language–especially the insinuation of “extortion money” to ameliorate criticism. The inaccurate accusation, too, that WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) is the primary driver of “crusading” against the book, hounding whichever offender until they donate, thus ending the criticism and blah, blah, blah.
      This sort of language is part of a very well-used and familiar playbook, whether the poster is aware of it or not. That this is the second comment in as many days I’ve come across using this language, on two different sites, by two different (so far as I know) commenters really makes me wonder.
      Anyway, I am not in the least bit affiliated with WNDB, but I watched as various writers, of color and white, frustrated with the state of kids and adult books and publishing, came together to form this little operation. Apparently one that is causing some concern among … well, can’t really say :) I do urge anyone that is unfamiliar with them to visit their site, though, and see why Emily Jenkins (who is highly invested in creating and promoting diverse books herself, something this episode will not change) and see why she chose that fledgling organization to donate to. I hope her graceful and heartfelt apology doesn’t become a tool for those with, it seems, a far different outlook than hers.

  11. For the record, WNDB were not “the very people attacking the book.” Criticism of the book (which is, contrary to what seems to be a prevalent opinion, different from an “attack”) was first voiced by a librarian on her own blog. Individual readers also left comments as part of an open-forum discussion on Calling Caldecott. Sophie Blackall then chose to respond to those criticisms and offer her perspective. In response, individual readers, authors, and critics–including journalists– expressed their personal criticism of the book. Looking through WNDB’s twitter feed: at no point did they mention A Fine Dessert at all. I believe it is their policy not to critique books.

    Perhaps those who express the utmost concern that others read a complete text before offering a negative opinion might want to “stick to the facts” themselves. Especially when they are speaking of an offense like extortion, in connection with an author’s exercise of free will, and an organization committed to diversity in children’s book publishing.

    If anything, this and many of the other comments in this thread demonstrate just how much We Need Diverse Books is needed.

  12. ” Looking through WNDB’s twitter feed: at no point did they mention A Fine Dessert at all. I believe it is their policy not to critique books.”

    Look through the Twitter feed of the most prominent WNDB personages. They very much were the most vocal people going after the book. No, they didn’t use the official account, but the crusade was led by those most prominent personages who do, like it or not, represent their organization.

    I shouldn’t have used ‘attacking’. I’ll concede that.

    • I’ve been following the social media discussions of the book for a while, gathering data for a research project. The objections I’ve seen are primarily from African Americans who are not with WNDB. Their comments are being shared by a lot of people.

      In SLJ’s article they cite my page on the book, and Elisa Gall. I’m not with WNDB. I don’t think Gall is either.

      Extortion is threatening a person, such that they do what you want them to do. You sound a bit silly, Galenos, suggesting that WNDB is doing that to the author.

  13. I’m not sure that “crusade” is really an impovement.

    Nor is your second presentation of the facts. From Ellen Oh, head of WNDB: “My thoughts on Fine Dessert– it’s a beautiful book that troubled me, but I was not informed enough to talk about it, only to listen and learn.”

    And while looking at words, you might want to look at “extort” and what you are implying by using it.

  14. Mike Jung says:

    I’m glad that Emily Jenkins apologized like this – unreservedly, with vulnerability, and without defensiveness or rancor. She made the effort to understand and then articulate the reality that her perspective is neither the only important nor the most important perspective, and that the concerns and objections put forth by so many Black voices are not invalidated by the fact that she didn’t anticipate them. I

    don’t know Ms. Jenkins, but I don’t have any reason to believe she didn’t make this decision 100% of her own volition. We’ve seen defensive, self-protective reactions to criticism over and over and over again; this is different. This is acknowledgment that’s too rarely given, and accountability that’s too rarely practiced. It would be wildly overstating things to say it makes Ms. Jenkins a hero, but I think it means she’s willing to fully engage with critical responses instead of negating them, and that is something we need very, very badly.

  15. Casey Crowe says:

    After reading all the commentary; I’ve decided to go order the book – and use the opportunity as a “teachable moment” when our 4th graders come to the topic of slavery in Social Studies this year. I’ll share the points of view expressed here and have them weigh in with their opinions. Should encourage some of those “higher level thinking skills” we keep hearing about.

  16. Maxine Shaw says:

    There is something amusing – and familiar – about watching a bunch of white people passionately defend the right to depict smiling, happy slaves. And that’s fine (and predictable). But when you force these images on children under the guise of “slaves were happy sometimes!”, then it becomes propaganda. There’s a reason why white people – and white librarians in particular – love feeding this book to children so much.

  17. Michelle LaValley says:

    I am the descendent of American black slaves. Has anyone commenting on this book researched American slavery? Taken an interest in black people’s history from Ancient Africa to the present? That question aside. Can you, as a human being, imagine being held captive and available for rape, verbal and physical violence 24 hours a day. Watching helplessly as your children are subjected to the same, not allowed to behave a normal children do? You cannot protect them, you cannot protect yourself. If they are not taken and sold from you, you get to watch whatever your captor wants to do or say to them. You are not clothed properly, you have no shoes. You never have enough to eat never mind to feed your children. And when your children eat, while you are working, which is from awakening to late at night, your children are fed from a trough, like pigs eat from. That is the reality of captivity. That was the reality of an enslaved mother and her children. If there were smiles, it was at night , while the captors slept. You could not look them in the eye. You could not be yourself and I guarantee you, yourself would be stressed to the max. This book is an insult to that very real suffering. At least research the subject before daring to write about lives you have absolutely no frame of reference to.

  18. It’s not the image of a slave woman smiling at her daughter that many find offensive but the whole premise of the book. A mother and daughter slave happily go along picking blackberries (are they forced to pick these blackberries? They ARE slaves). Then they happily make the dessert for their MASTERS and SERVE them. Afterwards they have to HIDE in a cupboard just to lick the scraps…and they are happy about that!
    If the author really wanted to depict community she could have done a little bit of research and discovered that enslaved Africans in the U.S. eventually created their own culture and maybe she could have shown the relationship between a mother and daughter in that context instead of happily being subservient to their white masters.

  19. Her apology proves her ignorance. It’s not just racially insensitive, it is glorifying the enslavement of a mother and her child. That is wrong on a human level.

  20. Tracey Hughes says:

    I have just learned about this book. I may try to find a copy to read, but admittedly, doing so has to take a back seat, because I’ve been busy trying to find two relatives of my 6th great grandmother, Saline Davidson. According to the will of the person who owned her (and at least ten other enslaved family members), two of the owner’s daughters “Earch had a negro girl about nine or ten year of age as So much advancement after Marriages.” Two children. Either two daughters of Saline, or a daughter and a sister of Saline. GIVEN AWAY AS WEDDING PRESENTS. And I’m highly doubtful that Grandma Saline smiled each time one of her relatives was given away, or sold away, or used as breeders for new crops of property in the early to mid-1800s. *This* was a lot closer to the reality of life for enslaved people. Even the fictional act of enjoyment in the book (eating some of the scraps of the dessert) was risky in real life; either of the enslaved “offenders” could have been beaten or even sold away, as punishment for not remembering what their “place” was. While I appreciate the author’s apology, I’m curious to know if she considered the reality of enslavement before writing the book.

  21. I can’t believe I read someone imply it is an injustice to deny that slaves were happy sometimes. Jewish prisoners in concentration camps were too happy sometimes. What’s the difference?

  22. Gee whiz, how could anyone think there was a problem here? I mean, the cover picture of a slave in 1810 has fairly white skin and pink cheeks, straight hair, thin lips, a tiny pointed nose and no breasts. If this was an accurate picture it would indicate she is the daughter of a rape victim. If the times are accurately represented, this means her father not only continued to rape her mother but also started to rape her, too, once she was 11 or 12 years old. Both she and her mother would have been whipped regularly by the rapist’s wife for those circumstances as if they were responsible or had a choice. Unless, of course, her mother had been sent to work in the fields for the audacity of being a rape victim who compounded her offense by having a light skinned child. And, lets be real about the child with whom our heroine is smiling, that child will be raped by the man who is both her grandfather and possibly her father, any and all of her uncles without recourse when she becomes 11 or 12. Since it is 1810, this and all other depraved abuse will continue, without end, for her entire life and probably, for the entire lives of her children without relief or respite at the whim of lazy white trash abusers. Now, how anyone could possibly consider any of these things to be offensive is entirely beyond my compression.

  23. What is the publishers position? Scholastic just recalled A Birthday Cake for George Washington after being lambasted for racial insensitivity and historical inaccuracy. I understand the writer’s apology. Any word from the publisher or illustrator?

  24. Librarian says:

    LoMarie…would it be okay to make A Fine Dessert w/ concentration camp victims smiling and hiding after making delicious Blackberry Fool for the commandant? No, it would be outrageous and disrespectful. But somehow, it’s okay to excuse the same, with people of color? Egad. The defense of this is unbelievable. Can’t you see the injustice? If not, maybe you don’t want to see. The voices crying out? If not, maybe you don’t want to hear it. That should tell you something.

    • Librarian, the movie, “Life is Beautiful,” is about a father using humor to protect his son from the reality of the concentration camp by convincing the boy it is all an elaborate game. He skips off to his own execution, so that the small son will think it is part of their game and will remain hidden silently. Also, the lauded graphic novel, “Maus,” portrays the Jews as mice and Nazis as rats. There are many ways painful topics can be addressed in literature.

  25. Rodney Hamilton says:

    For those who don’t think it’s possible a slavery mother never smiled at her beautiful child then consider this. Come and let me force you to do everything you don’t want to do, such as work you from sun-up to past sundown, stand over you with a whip or board beating you for working too slowly or not “hard” enough. Let me take you and rape you whenever I feel like it. Let me take your daughter and do whatever I wish to her and then sale her away never to bee seen again. Let me take a family member of yours that has tried to escape and chop half their foot off, and then the next time, while I make your family watch, tie them to four horses and let them pull that family member apart. After I’ve done all of this then you tell me how happy you would be at any given point…smile at me then and let me know you’re still happy!!

  26. Shalom2 says:

    I was a student of Emily Jenkins at NYU. On one hand, she’s a writing genius, but on the other hand she is “very” bitchy. She came across as pretentious, and even a little mean to a bunch of innocent freshman. I remember telling her I was elected class artist in high school, and her reaction was something along the lines of “what the f**ck is that?” It was really mean. She was trying so hard to be hip. She’s certainly a cool chick, but sooo b*tchy. I don’t know if she was jealous of a me, pretty 18 year old, or if she came from a cold family (her pops is a playwright.) or went to Vasser College or what. I think this book is seriously detrimental in it’s portrayal of slavery. I hope Emily is “not” a racist, she did not seem that way, I mean we were at a totally liberal school. But I think it was kind of an overlook that she’s too smart to do. I’m glad she is donating the funds, because slavery isn’t a joy ride, honey. It’s the one blot in American history that still reeks of horror. The Russians have Lenin, and America had it’s slaves. It get that here were good times and bad times, but this story needs to wake up.