January 18, 2016 Last Updated 7:11 am

Scholastic withdraws George Washington ‘Cake’ book from circulation to stem controversy; Oyster issues last app update

Morning Brief: The digital publishing platform Aquafadas has updated its app used to preview new digital editions, adding support for the new iPad Pro and fixing bugs

The children’s publisher Scholastic took the unusual step of releasing a press statement this weekend in order to head off a controversy regarding one of their new books. The publisher announced the withdrawal of A Birthday Cake for George Washington by Ramin Ganeshram.

ABirthdayGW-cover-300The book depicts “happy” slaves eager to prepare a birthday cake for America’s first president.

“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,” the publisher’s description reads.

Amazon, which still lists the book for sale (here), includes a negative review from School Library Journal: “A highly problematic work; not recommended.”

Reader reviews inside Amazon also trash the book, though only one review is listed as a “Verified Purchase”:

The story and artwork show creativity and talent. However, the promotion is misleading. This book does not deal with slavery as promised. It does however perpetuate the myths of “happy slaves” and “benevolent slave masters”. The book will leave children and parents with two false concepts: 1) Slaves were no different than hired household help, and 2) That slavery was benign. If you removed the pigment, there would be no notable difference between slaves and other white characters. Consequently, by stripping slavery of its realities, the book has stripped its pages of slaves.

Several political websites noticed the book and criticized Scholastic for their decision to publish the work by Ganeshram, who has authored several other books, all cooking related.

Nonetheless, Scholastic could see a controversy brewing, and so on Sunday the company announced that it would withdraw the book:

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.

Oyster, the subscription book service that said it would be shutting down its service come January, released its final app update this weekend.

Oyster-icon-feature“Oyster v 2.3.3 is the final version of the app. The existing Oyster service is no longer available as of January 2016,” the app description states.

The book service said in September that it was shutting down, but reports were that most of the team were heading to Google, which has struggled to gain much traction in either digital books or magazines.

“As we continue on, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of ebooks and mobile reading. We believe more than ever that the phone will be the primary reading device globally over the next decade—enabling access to knowledge and stories for billions of people worldwide,” the Oyster team said last fall. Since then there has only been silence.

One is reminded of Apple’s acquisition of the digital publishing platform Prss, which was acquired, shutdown, and nothing ever came of it after that (if Apple News was the result then it certainly wasn’t worth the acquisition). We’ll see if Google does more than simply bring on new personnel.

Aquafadas also updated its digital publishing platform app this weekend. The app Aquafadas Viewer, used to preview new digital editions, was update to add in iPad Pro support and to fix a series of bugs:

What’s New in Version 4.2

  • iPad Pro compliant
  • MagReader with a better scroll navigation
  • Better handle of color for top and bottom bar (remove old iOS6 legacy)


  • Fix with Dot2Dot bounce size
  • Fix in PDFReader when a spread has pages with different sizes
  • Crash fix in search
  • Reflow popup handle font size on iPhone
  • Fix on help popup from topbar button
  • Draw activity restore the shake for erase option
  • Remove blink on Popup Classic appearance

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