What is appropriate for children to see when teaching slavery and abolition? This week Scholastic decided to pull the book “A Birthday Cake for Mr. Washington.” The book was the story of Washington’s chef, Hercules, and his daughter Delia, as they bake a cake for the President's birthday. Scholastic had been facing criticism because the story made slavery seem like a pleasant lifestyle where slaves were happy and left out the fact that the real Hercules eventually ran away from Washington’s home to gain his freedom.
This current event brings up important questions: In teaching history to children, what should be included and what should be discarded? Should we censor history? Here at HSP we often pair our current children’s literature with primary sources relating to the topics being studied in order for students to get a well-rounded idea of the topic.
For example, in our archives, we have the recently published children’s book Henry’s Freedom Box that tells the story of Henry “Box” Brown. This book can easily be paired with primary sources about Brown including, William Still’s advertisement for his book The Underground Railroad featuring Brown on the cover and Brown’s own account of his life where he describes slavery as mentally abusive. Students can compare and contrast the picture book to the primary sources to get a better idea of Brown’s life as well as the world he lived in.
Teaching history can be a difficult subject, especially when the details are complicated and messy. It is important for students to see multiple perspectives when learning history, and pairing literature with primary sources can help bridge the gap between fact and fantasy, as well as help students confront the often difficult truths about our own history.
If you are interested in using sources any of these sources in your classroom, or would like your students to come visit us, please contact Alicia Parks.