Little Black Samb GB

ISBN: 0448131374
ISBN 13: 9780448131375
By: Helen Bannerman

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Reader's Thoughts


Three Cautionary Tales About EtymologyWhen you work with language, you soon learn to be sceptical about apparently obvious explanations for where words come from. I was reminded of this fact earlier today. In the shower, I had what I fondly believed to be a minor eureka moment concerning the origin of the word "metrosexual". We'd been watching episodes from Series 1 of Sex and the City (by the way, these are infinitely better than the recent movie). Now "metrosexual" is clearly a combination of "metro" (city) and "sexual" (sex)... most of the guys in Sex and the City are metrosexuals... the word "metrosexual" started appearing frequently in the late 90s... Sex and the City also started around then. Surely this couldn't be a coincidence? But, after a quarter of an hour of googling, I had to admit it was. The word "metrosexual" was coined in 1994, by journalist Mark Simpson; Sex and the City didn't appear until four years later. Basing the word on the TV series would have been witty, but doing it the other way round was just stupid. I gave up.While shopping at Tesco, I thought about similar incidents. I loved the story we were told by our one-time au pair Isabel. Her father was on some committee, and the phrase "manual labour" came up in a document they were drafting. A woman objected on the grounds that it was sexist: it should be "personal labour". Isabel's father had to go and find a dictionary to convince her that "manual" has nothing to do with "man"; it comes from the Latin manus, "hand", i.e. "done with the hands". The woman eventually gave in, but only after everyone else on the committee started laughing at her.You're wondering what this has to do with Little Black Sambo, but I've saved my best story for last. (Names and other details have been changed to protect the innocent). Suppose you're an American visiting Stockholm, and you're invited to a party. You find yourself next to a striking couple. She's obviously Swedish: tall, blonde, blue eyes. He's a hunky Denzel Washington lookalike. You introduce yourself. The woman tells you her name. Then she says, or at least she appears to say, "And this is my Sambo". His English doesn't seem to be so great; he just smiles and nods vaguely.You're aghast at her casual racism and insensitivity, and move on as quickly as you can. But... I'm afraid you've just been involved in a linguistic friendly fire incident. English is notorious for lacking a commonly used word that means "person you live with and have sex with, but are not married to". Swedish doesn't have this problem, and, you've guessed it, the word is sambo. It has absolutely nothing to do with the English word, and originally comes from the phrase SAMmanBOende under äktenskapsliknande förhållanden - "living together in marriage-like circumstances". You can see why an abbreviation was introduced. Since there is no corresponding English expression and the Swedish one is so useful, Swedes, at least on their home ground, often use it even when speaking English. Moral: just like any other consumer product, words often don't come from the place you think they do. Read the fine print on the package.


Go beyond the racist disaster that this book became and go back to its roots in India. This was written about India by a writer from Scotland. The little purple slippers are still a hoot. It always made me sad that other publishers ruined this story and then a stupid restaurant sold pancakes with a twist. sigh.


I'm not sure The Story of Little Black Sambo, by Helen Bannerman, would be appropriate to read in a classroom today, but I must admit I did enjoy the story and the illustrations. Little Black Sambo, son of Black Mumbo and Black Jumbo, is an intelligent boy who is able to outsmart a tiger in order to save his life. Because I know this book may cause controversy in a modern-day classroom, I did some research about it. I found that in 1996 a man named Fred Marcellino read this book and found it to have no real racial overtones, and produced a re-illustrated version titled The Story of Little Babaji which only changed the names and left the rest of the text how it was. This title ended up being a best seller.The illustrations in the book are simple yet the vibrant colors are eye-catching and bright. I liked the pictures. They definitely help the reader clearly visualize the clothes that are talked about in the text. I wouldn't have The Story of Little Black Sambo in my room for obvious controversial reasons, but I would like to have The Story of Little Babaji, as I found this to be a great traditional book.


What makes a book racist? Is it the text or the illustrations? A combination of the two? And does a book once deemed racist have a place in children's fiction in an historical context? Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman is a book that has been called racist, been challenged by thousands, and even inspired the bankruptcy of a series of restaurants called 'Sambo's."Whether this book in it's original form or any of the updated versions is racist, is up to the individual to decide. However, the book is part of children's literature's varied and extensive history. To deny that the book exists and played a role in how children's books are written and illustrated today is to be the proverbial ostrich; just because one pokes one's head in the sand does not mean something does not exist.Continue reading on Little Black Sambo; racist children's story? Review 18 of 365 books in one year - San Francisco fiction |


There was something incredibly appealing about this book. I loved the story of the resourceful and brave child going out and outwitting tigers, and I have no idea what was so compelling about his articles of clothing being distributed amongst the vain tigers, but it just captured my attention as a child. And most who have read the book will understand why it made me hungry for pancakes at the end! I had a little trouble not feeling sorry for the tigers, but I rationalized it by reminding myself that they would have hurt the protagonist if they hadn't ended up being tricked by him.This book with this title was in my school and presented as reading material with no hint that it might be racist. I was a little confused by the text's referring to the protagonist as "Little Black Sambo," as I didn't understand why him being dark-skinned would need to be part of his name. Many years later I saw references to this book being controversial, read the explanation, and thought "ohhh, that explains it." I'm glad there's a non-racist version of the story, because other than the presentation of the character and the terminology used, I think it's still a really fun story.

Erik Graff

This one goes way back--so far that I'm not sure when I first saw the book, our family's copy of which was old at the time. My presumption is that Mom's father passed it on to her when I was born, that it was probably a copy that she and her sisters had enjoyed as children.As background to such old family keepsake books it should be noted that my mother and father were cousins. Harald and Olga Graff, my great-grandparents, had had three children: Einar, Fin and Gerda. When Harald, a Norwegian immigrant who had established a medical practice in EuClaire, Wisconsin, committed suicide the three kids were separated: Fin going to relatives in Oslo, Norway, Einar and Gerda being raised, after Olga's remarriage, in Chicago. Fin was Mother's stepfather. Einar was Dad's dad.The result of all of this was that Fin, in Norway, knew English and had a lot of English language books which he passed on to his daughter, my mother, when she married her cousin, Einar Graff Jr., and bore yours truly. My childhood books were therefore a mix of Norwegian and Anglo-American children's books of which this was an instance of the latter.


The first thing that stuck out to me is the word sambo, of which I have known as a word that people don’t use to call others being as it’s used in a bad and offensive way usually. In present day, this isn’t a book that I would read to a class, I may choose to read it as a child of my own for the pure fact that it is written good and has a story line, but I would explain that it’s not a word someone would say in everyday use and show that in a sense this book is trying to correct how people may use this word. It is a great story, explaining how a boy out smarted a group of tigers and being very courageous. I loved that the illustrations made the outfit very colorful, showing how rich and important those clothes, shoes, and umbrella were. Also, in the end when they show the butter it looks as if its glowing, almost as if it’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The history at the end of the book is also important to read, showing what the book was based on.


As a kid I loved this book, and I had no idea that it was racist in tone. But that was back in the 50s. I think the tone is a result of how a parent reads the story to the child. In addition, it is how a child is raised that teaches or does not teach racist values.


I remember my mother reading this charming story to me when I was a little girl. I was so sad that it had been removed from the book shelves and I was unable to find it when I had my own little girl. I know racism is a touchy subject, but honestly! To blacklist this adorable children's story because it is about a boy called "Little Black Sambo".....honestly!!! Grow up people and learn to teach your children properly about treating other people with dignity and respect as you you like to be treated and there wouldn't be any problem (sorry, I'm on my soapbox again).Needless to say, I was overjoyed when I found it on Amazon's Free Book List!!!!! I had to download and re-read it. I can't help it, I'm still just a kid at heart and I refuse to give up that right (especially since I'm now in my 60's and am suppossed to be in my second childhood)!!!!!

Bob Havey

Read the Simon & Schuster (1948) version back when I was a kid. No one thought it was racist, but that's only because it isn't. I bought a copy for my collection several years ago. Any book that's banned is worth having.

Cheryl in CC NV

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.


This book was deemed politically incorrect some years ago. Found it in a book store on Edisto Island. It is the same - a children's book and frankly perfectly safe. Glad I found it.


This book from my childhood just popped up in my memory this morning, such great rhythm to the story & it's so different from other books we see as children in north America

Lisa Vegan

I just saw a Goodreads friend rate & review this, and it sparked my memory. I absolutely loved this story as a small child, and to me it was about a boy who created a wonderful outcome for himself and who was the hero of the story. He’s intelligent, capable, creative, and very clever, and those pancakes were enticing and enviable.It’s been close to 50 years since I had this story read to me or read it myself. As a 2 to 4 or 5 or 6 year old (1955-1959) I was not aware of any objectionable content; I did not know that sambo was a racist term and the pictures did not raise a red flag for me, and I’m positive the same goes for my parents. That doesn’t mean we weren’t ignorant, and that’s disconcerting.Reading about his book now, I am saddened to recognize racist content (at least in the version I knew) and I must say the tigers turning into butter is another disturbing aspect for me. Both the racism & depiction of the tigers would keep me from recommending it to today’s children.I’m doing what I’ve done with most books here at Goodreads: rating it based on my opinion when I read it or had it read to me. Now, I suspect the version I knew would get 1 star; the revised versions might fare better.

Alissa Bach

I noticed that someone on my friend list read and rated this and it brought back some memories for me. I owned this book as a child. The original one. Now before you jump all over me, know this: This was back in the 1970s, before political correctness became what it is today. In hindsight, yes, there were definitely some racist elements to the book. So much that it makes the Adult Me cringe to think that I owned (and liked) this book as a little kid. But in defense of Little Kid Me, I didn't know then that this book was racist. I didn't even racism existed. Didn't even know what it was. Kids are beautifully color blind like that. Moreover, my parents are both pretty open-minded and raised me to be accepting of everyone regardless of race, religious affiliation, sexual preference, etc. That said, I think they must have purchased this book for me out of ignorance rather than trying to unconsciously instill in me any racist ideas (The idea of my parents doing that is laughable!). But stop for a moment. Take out the controversial elements and what do you have at the heart of this book: A story about bullying. Yep, that's right. Here, a clever boy encounters three very nasty bullies. But rather than crying, trying to fight back, or living in fear, he outsmarts those bullies. That there is a very positive message about a topic (bullying) that is more relevant today than ever. Don't give into your bullies. Don't be afraid. Don't be a victim. Be smarter than your bullies and you'll come out on top. Homemade pancakes are a good incentive too!

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