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Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman

Little Black Sambo (1899)

by Helen Bannerman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Little Black Sambo

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8523416,010 (3.72)25



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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
(Original Review, 1981-01-07)

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, anyone?

The whole notion of "tainted classics" gives me the creeps. "Tainted?" Sez who? But changing them to make them more PC is even creepier. Read on...

This is a true story, although it's hard to believe. In the 1980's I was perusing the selection on offer in the children's section of an otherwise wonderful bookstore, the kind long gone now. I was absolutely staggered to pick up a book--an actual, in-my-hand book--called "Little Gray Sambo." I stood there and read it: I had to make sure it wasn't a "fake" of some kind. But no. It was a re-telling of "Little Black Sambo" with the central character changed to...gray. It was beyond bizarre. Publish it or don't publish it. But...gray? Not too long after, I was in again. Same store, same section. Oscar Wilde. The Selfish Giant. The whole final bit where the giant realises the child he has longed to see is the Christ child was lopped off and a few clumsy sentences appended. Cutesy drawings and a fuzzy-focus lesson in "sharing." Censorship at work.

Children aren't stupid, and they won't turn into racists because they pick up an old classic from their grandparents' childhood shelves and read a good yarn that also includes attitudes we deplore. A lot of "boys own" or girl adventures had bucketloads of this stuff. Yet some of us marched for civil rights, are wary of what drives foreign policy, and are straight allies of LGBTQI family and friends. Remember, children are now receiving a culture (which itself will change) that has changed its attitudes. They can suss out quite a bit for themselves. Give them some credit. If the author of this piece wants to purge (deliberate usage there) her shelves, she can. If she wants to keep her kids' minds unsullied, she can. But I would be more inclined to let the old grubby-binding friends sit where they are. If my kids read them, I might ask if they noticed attitudes, and go from there.

And if we purge or avoid or hand-wringing, we lose the frames of reference and foundations for comparison. It's vital to be able to say to our children and each other, yes, this is the way it was, here are the ways in which these issues still exist, let's see how we can involve ourselves in positive ways. Elsewhere I cited Pepys, and his treatment of and attitude toward women in the 1660s - and what society right now is without the very same domestic problems? Racial issues are somewhat improved but hardly vanquished . . . we have kilometres to go yet, and the old(er) non-PC literature is one of the beacons along the way. Avoid it and we'll just continue chasing our tails instead of continuing social progress. ( )
  antao | Nov 29, 2018 |
Very much of its time, this book takes a paternalistic, colonial view of black people - in particular of Indians, where it is set. The story is interesting and the illustrations in the (1924) edition we have are more African than Asian but that is how confused people were at the time. Is it racist? Not intentionally but, by modern standards, it crosses a line. If read to a modern child that point would have to be made which, in my view, would be a valuable learning opportunity. ( )
  Philogos | Sep 1, 2017 |
I would use this in Kindergarten and 1st grade as a read aloud because the students may be able to relate to the child in the story and getting new clothes but then having to give them up.
  mwilcox02 | Apr 12, 2017 |
The Story of Little Black Sambo has an adorable plot yet contains many racist stereotypes in its illustrations. It was also problematic of the author to name the three humans in the story Little Black Sambo, Black Mumbo, and Black Jumbo. In doing so, the author unnecessarily highlighted the race of the characters in a way that made them an 'other' to readers of different races. Years after the book was originally published, several of its many adaptations were used for intensional racism. Luckily society has learned since then for the most part. ( )
  Jacki_H | Sep 29, 2016 |
This review is for this edition. Christopher Bing's illustrations are gorgeous. The story is allowed to be an outright fantasy (after all, the boy is African but the parents, tigers, jungle, and food are Indian). The tigers melting into ghi is just plain funny - what small child doesn't imagine even sillier things? Bing chose to leave Bannerman's text intact, but rather to enhance it with so many details in the format of the book as a whole that we can easily believe she meant only joy and kindness. The complex author's note at the end is for grownups - after reading it they might choose to share bits with their children, but there's no need. 3.5 stars? I'm just not sure of one thing - can the simple silly story of the text support such a rich, heavy, gorgeous book? I feel a sort of a dichotomy or disharmony. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Betsy Hearne (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February 2004 (Vol. 57, No. 6))
Arguably one of the most controversial books in the history of children’s literature, this century-old story has been criticized for its stereotyped illustrations and for the ongoing racist implications of the derogatory name Sambo. In 1996, artist Fred Marcellino tried to politically correct the narrative by retitling it The Story of Little Babaji (BCCB 9/96) and setting it in India, where it was first written. That same year, the African-American team of author Julius Lester and illustrator Jerry Pinkney sought to redeem the story with a fantastical send-up that capitalized on its strong characters, images, and action (Sam and the Tigers, BCCB 7/96). Now award-winning illustrator Christopher Bing casts the original text in an oversized format complete with antiqued pages, scrapbook-like endpapers that include a reference to support for the project from Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and framing pages with a long editor’s note on the book’s background. Bing’s double-page spread compositions pulse with restrained energy and reflect meticulous attention to detail in the Indian flora and fauna and the African human cast, all textured with the effects of an old engraving. The colors that play such a large part in the story--red coat, blue trousers, green umbrella, and purple shoes with crimson soles and crimson linings--are set against black-framed sepia backgrounds that play up the gold of these imperial tigers. While respecting the story’s past, Bing also seems to be mocking it with his back-jacket-flap self-portrait in a colonial sahib-helmet. Yet there’s no question that he has empowered the tale with fresh individuality and dynamic book design. There’s also no question that many children respond breathlessly to this story of a little boy who rescues his fine new duds from some fierce predators. For those who are comfortable reading aloud or retelling the story of Little Black Sambo, Bing’s pictures will project--to a group or an individual--its fast pace and infectious rhythm with visual bravado. Review Code: R -- Recommended
added by kthomp25 | editThe Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Betsy Hearne (Feb 1, 2004)

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bannerman, Helenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bing, ChristopherIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
EulalieIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Michell, Gladys TurleyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
SuzanneIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Williams, Florence WhiteIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
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First words
Once upon a time there was a little black boy, and his name was Little Black Sambo.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Project Gutenberg, illustrated by Florence White Williams: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17824/...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0397300069, Hardcover)

The jolly and exciting tale of the little boy who lost his red coat and his blue trousers and his purple shoes but who was saved from the tigers to eat 169 pancakes for his supper, has been universally loved by generations of children. First written in 1899, the story has become a childhood classic and the authorized American edition with the original drawings by the author has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

Little Black Sambo is a book that speaks the common language of all nations, and has added more to the joy of little children than perhaps any other story. They love to hear it again and again; to read it to themselves; to act it out in their play.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:53 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A little boy in India loses his fine new clothes to the tigers, but while they dispute who is the grandest tiger in the jungle he takes his fine clothes back again.

» see all 5 descriptions

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