Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

A Birthday Cake for George Washington

A Birthday Cake for George Washington

2.0 3
by Ramin Ganeshram

Everyone is buzzing about the president's birthday! Especially George Washington's servants, who scurry around the kitchen preparing to make this the best celebration ever. Oh, how George Washington loves his cake! And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president's cake. But this


Everyone is buzzing about the president's birthday! Especially George Washington's servants, who scurry around the kitchen preparing to make this the best celebration ever. Oh, how George Washington loves his cake! And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president's cake. But this year there is one problem--they are out of sugar.

This story, told in the voice of Delia, Hercules's young daughter, is based on real events, and underscores the loving exchange between a very determined father and his eager daughter, who are faced with an unspoken, bittersweet reality. No matter how delicious the president's cake turns out to be, Delia and Papa will not taste the sweetness of freedom.

New York Times food writer Ramin Ganeshram and acclaimed illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton serve up a slice of history in a picture book narrative that will surely satisfy.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Stir It Up!:

"Stir It Up! is sweet, sassy--and peppered with inspiration. Brava to author Ramin Ganeshram."--Daisy Martinez, Chef Host, Daisy Cooks!, ¡Viva Daisy!, The Food Network

Children's Literature - Leona Illig
A black slave, Hercules, serves as the head chef for President George Washington and his family in Philadelphia. When the President’s birthday comes around, everyone depends on Hercules to bake the cake. There is a problem, however: the household has run out of sugar. Hercules decides to use honey instead, and is able to present a delicious and beautiful cake to the President and his family. The story is told through the eyes of Hercules’ daughter, Delia, in the present tense. As a fictional story about a baker who has run of out sugar, there is nothing wrong with this story; and there is a lot of information on the process of baking, which is interesting. But the underlying ugliness of the master-slave relationship cannot be avoided. The tale itself describes a rather happy slave existence, and the slaves and masters are all pretty much idealized. It is only when the reader arrives, after the end of the story, at the author’s note about the real lives of Hercules and Delia that the sordid truth is exposed. Washington went to great lengths to keep Hercules enslaved; Hercules was finally able to escape in 1797. Delia remained a slave even after Washington died, since Martha owned her and the President’s wife never freed any of her slaves. The reader also learns that Delia apparently could not have witnessed the baking of the special honey cake because she was never in Philadelphia. In the end, the disconnect between this simple fictional tale and the truth is just too much to overcome. The illustrations are good. In addition to the author’s note, there is a recipe for a cake adapted from Martha Washington’s Book of Cookery. Sadly, however, the whole project seems woefully tone-deaf, and borders on the offensive. Reviewer: Leona Illig; Ages 5 to 8.
School Library Journal
Gr 1–3—A troubling depiction of American slavery. In a famous Philadelphia kitchen, chef Hercules prepares to make the perfect birthday cake for his master, President George Washington. When he discovers that there is no more sugar in the pantry, Hercules scrambles to find a suitable substitute, enlisting the help of the other slaves and servants. Based on the real figure of Hercules, who was owned by the first president and served as his chef, the story is told through the eyes of Hercules's young daughter, Delia, who describes her papa as a "general in the kitchen." The text explains that Hercules was one of Washington's most trusted slaves and was given more freedom than most; he could be seen in fine clothes walking the streets of Philadelphia or enjoying tickets to the theater. The story revolves around Hercules, Delia, and the other slaves finding a replacement for the sugar and carefully baking the cake. Brantley-Newton's colorful, cartoon-style double-page illustrations, combined with the light tone of the text, convey a feeling of joyfulness that contrasts starkly with the reality of slave life. One spread depicts dancing feet and the hems of fancy dresses and shoes of the white revelers at the very top of the page. Hercules, Delia, and the other slaves are seen in the kitchen below, smiling with glee as they work on the cake, evoking a strangely cheerful and exuberant scene reminiscent of a Disney film. Later, when Washington congratulates Hercules on a job well done, Hercules responds, "An honor and a privilege, sir." Young readers without sufficient background knowledge about the larger context of American slavery may come away with a dangerously rosy impression of the relationship between slaves and slave owners, and those with a deeper understanding are likely to find this depiction offensive. An appended note explains that Hercules was a real person, now thought of by some culinary historians as "the first celebrity chef in America." Ganeshram states that Hercules eventually escaped but that his children, including narrator Delia, were owned by Martha Washington and remained enslaved their entire lives. The somber facts recounted in small print at the end of the author's note are unfortunately not reflected in either the text or the illustrations of the story that precedes them. Adding insult to injury, the back matter concludes with a recipe for "Martha Washington's Great Cake," courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. VERDICT A highly problematic work; not recommended.—Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Delia's papa, Hercules, faces a seemingly insurmountable challenge: how to bake a birthday cake for his master, President George Washington, without sugar? Food writer Ganeshram applies her considerable expertise to this historical tale of culinary ingenuity. How, exclaims Papa, can the larder be stocked with West Indian nutmeg, Mexican chocolate, African coffee, English cheese, Italian olives, Indian mangoes, and Arabian oils—but no sugar? Fortunately, the president has a taste for honey, and Papa improvises successfully. A full double-page spread is devoted to the preparation and combination of ingredients, presented as a team effort. Every last one of the enslaved kitchen crew is smiling, as they are throughout. Brantley-Newton explains those smiles in the backmatter, noting that the real-life Hercules and his staff evidently took pride in their work for the president: "There is joy in what they've created through their intelligence and culinary talent." Ganeshram confronts Delia's and Papa's bondage on one page, when Delia tells readers proudly that "Papa is the slave President and Mrs. Washington trust the most." A full-page author's note goes into detail about Hercules' life, informing readers that he escaped in 1797, leaving Delia still enslaved. The book is a sorry contrast to Emily Arnold McCully's The Escape of Oney Judge (2007), which explicitly tells the story of one of Martha Washington's enslaved servants who took freedom. Children whose grown-ups do not address the material in the notes with them will be left with a sorely incomplete understanding of both the protagonists' lives and slavery itself. (recipe) (Picture book. 5-8)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.20(w) x 11.10(h) x 0.50(d)
760L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

Meet the Author

Ramin Ganeshram is a veteran journalist who has written for many prestigious publications such as The New York Times, Newsday, National Geographic Traveler, and Bon Appetit. Additionally, Ramin is a food writer and professional chef, and holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Stir It Up! is her acclaimed teen book. She lives in Westport, Connecticut.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton attended both the Fashion Institute of Technology and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she studied fashion and children's book illustration. She is the illustrator of Let Freedom Sing, which she also wrote; One Love and Every Little Thing, both written by Cedella Marley; and the Ruby and the Booker Boys series, along with many other books.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

A Birthday Cake for George Washington 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A children's book that terrifies adults into hysteria should be very interesting. I hope someday to get a copy of this book, but due to censorship it may not be possible.
CEBohanon More than 1 year ago
Hard to review if I can't buy it
ShantiSB More than 1 year ago
Scholastic Inc. Search form Search edu@scholastic HOME BOOKS EDUCATION MORE NEWS SCHOLASTIC READS PODCAST New statement about the picture book "A Birthday Cake for George Washington" Guest Blogger January 17th, 2016 (January 17, 2016) Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and will accept all returns. While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, 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. 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. Scholastic provides a wide variety of fiction and informational books and magazines which teachers, parents and children rely on, including many devoted to African American experience, history and culture. We are also committed to providing books, magazines, and educational materials that portray the experience of all children, including those from diverse communities and backgrounds, and we will continue to expand that commitment through our global publishing channels.