Saturday, May 18, 2019

Review - The Story of Little Black Sambo

The Story of Little Black Sambo
by Helen Bannerman
Date: 1899
Publisher: Frederick A. Stokes Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 64
Format: e-book
Source: Open Library

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.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'd heard of this book (and its racism) but I'd never actually read it. I found it on Open Library and thought I'd give it a try. Aside from the racist bits, it's actually a pretty fun story.

Little Black Sambo is given a lovely coat, trousers, umbrella, and shoes by his parents. He ends up having to give away each article of clothing to appease some tigers (so they won't eat him). Eventually, though, the tigers get vain and think they're so fine, and they end up fighting and chasing each other around a tree so fast that they churn themselves into ghee! The fanciful elements of the story are like what you'd expect to see in a good picture book, and the whole thing comes across as a fun fable.

As I was reading this book, I thought about how easy it would be to change the racist parts so that it would be less offensive. And, seeing reviews on Goodreads, it seems that the book has been altered over the years, changed to give it an Indian setting and characters (which makes more sense, considering the plot points of tigers and ghee). I can't comment on any of these newer editions, because I read a really old one... but I don't think it would take much in the way of changes to make this book acceptable for a modern audience.

Quotable moment:

So the Tiger got poor Little Black Sambo's beautiful little Red Coat, and went away saying, "Now I'm the grandest Tiger in the Jungle."

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

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