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Little Black Sambo (1899)

by Helen Bannerman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Little Black Sambo

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9473816,513 (3.71)27
A retelling of the well-known tale in which a little black boy finally outwits the succession of tigers that want to eat him.
  1. 00
    Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett (buddingnaturalist)
    buddingnaturalist: A girl keeps giving items of her clothing away to trolls to keep them from stealing her dog.
  2. 00
    Little Britches and the Rattlers by Eric A. Kimmel (buddingnaturalist)
    buddingnaturalist: A cowgirl keeps giving items of her clothing away to rattlesnakes to keep them from "swallering" her up.
  3. 00
    Sam and the Tigers; A New Telling of 'Little Black Sambo' by Julius Lester (buddingnaturalist)
    buddingnaturalist: A retelling by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
  4. 00
    The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman (buddingnaturalist)
    buddingnaturalist: An updated edition with new illustrations and Indian names for the characters.
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» See also 27 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
"Oh, wow." I think I said something like that when I saw this little book. I was booking with my friend Chris, something we did on a regular basis and will do again when the virus fades. We make the rounds to several thrift stores and Goodwills in the area.

I grabbed this book for a couple reasons. It has a place in literary history and I actually remember reading the story as a kid. I can still picture the tigers racing around the tree.

But seeing the title made me immediately wonder about the content and whether it would be acceptable today.

The preface explains the author made up this story for her daughters while on a train trip. The preface says:

"Once upon a time there was an English lady in India, where black children abound and tigers are everyday affairs, who had two little girls. To amuse these little girls she used now and then to invent stories, for which, being extremely talented, she also drew and coloured the pictures."

The book was first published in 1899 and was poplar for a long time. The book then actually praised for presenting black characters as heroes. (The young boy was very brave and did outsmart the tigers.)

In the mid-20th century, the book was blasted for the names of the characters and the illustrations. Apparently major revisions have been made to the book since this edition. By the way, I found an online auction site where this edition sold for $162.50.

When I lived in Joliet in the '70s there was a restaurant called Sambos. At the time I felt the name was inappropriate.
I found this bit of history:

"Sambo's was a popular US restaurant chain of the 1950s through 1970s that borrowed characters from the book (including Sambo and the tigers) for promotional purposes, although the Sambo name was originally a blend of the founders' names and nicknames: Sam (Sam Battistone) and Bo (Newell Bohnett).

"For a period in the late 1970s, some locations were renamed "The Jolly Tiger". The controversy about the book led to accusations of racism that contributed to the 1,117-restaurant chain's demise in the early 1980s. Images inspired by the book (now considered by some racially insensitive) were common interior decorations in the restaurants. Though portions of the original chain were renamed "No Place Like Sam's" to try to forestall closure, all but the original restaurants in Santa Barbara, California, had closed by 1983.

The original location, owned by Battistone's grandson Chad Stevens, existed in Santa Barbara under the name "Sambo's" until June 2020. The name on the original Sambo's sign was temporarily changed to the motto "☮ & LOVE" (where "☮" is the Unicode symbol for "peace,"), due to pressure from the Black Lives Matter group during the George Floyd protests and a separate signature drive that collected thousands of signatures. In July 2020, the restaurant was officially renamed to "Chad's."

So ... lot of history behind this little book. ( )
  LJCain | Mar 18, 2021 |
I thought it was fine as a kid, but I am sure I would be horrified if I read it again now, given that this is one of those books that is no longer considered okay. (I'm a bit scared to re-read it, actually!)
  Tara_Calaby | Jun 22, 2020 |
Rather more interesting than I thought it would be! And no, I don't know why anyone would think this was racist. The kid pulled a golden apple trick on the four tigers and let them fight amongst themselves, finally getting his clothes back.

I don't know about any of you, but that's a clever move. Briar Rabbit-like. So yeah, I like. :)

Tiger run around the tree, indeed! ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Covers detached; older copy than the other (no ISBN).. Ex libris Matt Anders ( )
  ME_Dictionary | Mar 20, 2020 |
(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. ( )
1 vote antao | Nov 29, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (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 (52 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bannerman, Helenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bing, ChristopherIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
EulalieIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Michell, Gladys TurleyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piper, WattyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
SuzanneIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Williams, Florence WhiteIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Once upon a time there was a little black boy, and his name was Little Black Sambo.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A retelling of the well-known tale in which a little black boy finally outwits the succession of tigers that want to eat him.

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Book description
Project Gutenberg, illustrated by Florence White Williams: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17824/...
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Hachette Book Group

2 editions of this book were published by Hachette Book Group.

Editions: 1929766556, 1593541996

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