Here's the thing about that children's book, "A Birthday Cake For George Washington": I can't imagine a sane, rational, reasonably intelligent African American approving a story that depicts slaves as happy. What I can certainly see, though, is the nuance of the lives our people lived during a time when our folk were in bondage. I haven't read the book; only accounts of what's in the pages, mostly from people who haven't read the book and have no idea who its editor and illustrator are. I can tell you, though, as an author of 23 books, five of which were edited by Scholastic's Andrea Davis-Pinkney: nuance, track record and dedication to our children MUST count for something. Andrea is the award-winning children's book author who, as a writer, filled bookshelves with almost two dozen children's books featuring Black characters we treasure and love, and, as an editor, opened doors for many Black authors whose sole wish was to chronicle the lives of Black folk for brown babies, including treasures like Walter Dean Meyers, Derrick Barnes and yes, me. Without her, our shelves would be that much more barren. The same goes for the illustrator extraordinaire, Vanessa Brantley Newton, whose illustrations have graced countless books showing the joy and wonder of beautiful Black children and families. Both of these sisters are dedicated to showing the beauty of us, and as a colleague, writer, parenting expert, mother and lover and collector of Black children's books, I do think both Andrea and Vanessa deserve the benefit of the doubt--at least an airing that extends far beyond calling them Klansmen, racists, ignorant, clueless and whatever other insult I've seen lobbed their way. I read Andrea's explanation for publishing the book and, while I cannot say I could get behind a book about happy House Negroes, I can appreciate the nuance for which Andrea, Vanessa and the author were reaching. Perhaps it is the same nuance that found its way into, say, "Life Is Beautiful," the award-winning film about a father who fools his child into believing that Auschwitz is a "fun" camp full of wonder, even as he understands their impending doom. Of course, this we'll never know. The book has been pulled. We'll never know if there was room there for the tough, nuanced discussions we could have had with that book on the shelves. I will say this, though: I do hope that moving forward, all the people coming for Andrea and Vanessa's necks could consider actually supporting the Black children's books that have gone out of their way to shine a lovely light for our babies. I hope, too, that after all the ruckus dies down, the publishing world considers easing up on the slave, Civil Rights and Black icon narratives and instead focuses on a new kind of Black children's book, one that considers the everyday wonders of Black children's humanity. Bring on the stories of Black babies pushing past the first-day-of-school jitters. Let's see books about Black children enjoying family get-togethers, going to church, making friends in the park, bonding with grandparents, taking care of their dogs, using their big, beautiful imaginations. (I'm actually working on a project myself that I hope helps to fill some of this void--stay tuned.) Let's use this as an opportunity to celebrate us, rather than mindlessly tear us down. Andrea and Vanessa deserve that much. So do brown babies.
Denene Millner of My Brown Baby.