The author of a glowingly reviewed picture book says that she has “come to understand that my book, while intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive”, following criticism over its images of smiling slaves.
A Fine Dessert, published in January, tells how “four families, in four different cities, over four centuries”, make blackberry fool. Starting in Lyme, England, in 1710, Emily Jenkins’s story, and Sophie Blackall’s pictures, go on to depict a slave girl and her mother in 1810 Charleston, preparing and serving a fool for a white family, before licking the bowl themselves, hidden in a cupboard.
It was picked last month as one of the New York Times’s best illustrated books of 2015, with Blackall’s “warm, finely detailed illustrations” praised for how they “capture the sweep of history and the constancy of family love”. Reviewer John Lithgow had previously given the book a positive write-up, highlighting the “bold and somewhat unsettling choice” to “portray a smiling slave woman and her daughter”.
But in the months since the book has been published, objections to its depiction of the slave characters have emerged. In August, one librarian pointed to its “misleading depiction of slavery”.