Emily Jenkins Apologizes for “A Fine Dessert”

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

Posted : May 02, 2016 05:14

Rodney Hamilton

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!!

Posted : Apr 07, 2016 01:03


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.

Posted : Jan 26, 2016 05:38

Kate H.

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.

Posted : Feb 01, 2016 05:19

Robin C. Green

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?

Posted : Jan 20, 2016 09:37


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.

Posted : Jan 19, 2016 01:08

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