Little Black Sambo/Little Babaji

The new and the old

The Preface to the version of The Story of Little Black Sambo  by Helen Bannerman that we have reads like this:

The original

Applewood Books is proud to reissue this classic edition of Little Black Sambo. During the last thirty years, the book and its little hero have been the center of a big controversy.  Sambo became, to some, a symbol of racism, and to others, he remained a long-remembered favorite.

Many may wonder why we are reissuing this book.  As with all the books we publish, we are reissuing the book as a window on our past. Recently, I read this book to my two young sons. When I asked them what they thought, they said they thought Sambo was a hero and marveled at his bravery.

This was my experience with the story as well.  I loved hearing the story when my mom read it to us kids and I never once thought anything of the pictures or the use of the term “black” to describe Sambo and his parents Mumbo and Jumbo.  I can’t remember a single incidence of racism in my household growing up and I had plenty of shades of brown among my friends in school.

The new, PC Babaji

There are now politically correct versions of this story available. These are well done. We have and love The Story of Little Babaji —illustrated by Fred Marcellino—as well as the original tale and it is faithful in essence and spirit. The only difference is the culturally appropriately named and colored Babaji, Mamaji and Papaji.  My children seem to like both stories equally while only one son prefers the crude-ish drawings of Black Sambo over Babaji.

I think it’s a shame to overthink race and to ignore the heritage that shaped our culture. Whatever you think on the issue, I encourage you to BUY at least one of the versions of this story because it is an absolute favorite of children everywhere and one of the most requested items on our own plentiful shelves.

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One thought on “Little Black Sambo/Little Babaji

  1. Christie

    I remember this book fondly, as it is my grandmother's favorite and she used to read it to me as a young child. I think I understood that the characters were a different race, but I never really thought too much on it.

    I agree that we are becoming so sensitive to offending people based on real, good differences. I suppose the caricature of Sambo and his family could be offensive to some, but I don't doubt that every race caricatures other races. Then the question becomes, is the privileged race not allowed to do this because of its privileges? I don't know the answer. . .

    Thanks for reminding me of this childhood favorite!

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