Quilting, Farming, Variety

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Childrens Classic in Peril

How long has it been since you've thought about the story of Little Black Sambo? Do your children or grandchildren know the story? Written and illustrated by Helen Bannerman and published in 1899, it was a favorite story for children for half a century until the word "sambo" was deemed a racial slur in some countries. The original illustrations showed a caricatured Southern Indian, or Tamil child. Perhaps the book's success led to many widely available versions that included popular stereotypes of "black" people and gradually caused the book to be dropped from lists of recommended stories for children, even to the point of being banned from schools, or released in other forms.

Now I guess that's where I get upset: is it fair to take a story from someone and rewrite it? Isn't there a word for that? (In college term papers we were told we were "stealing sentences".) Is it merely another way for publishers to make more money? While we're banning stories, why not ban TV shows, such as Family Guy, American Dad, and South Park, probably meant for adults, but presented in a cartoon format so children are naturally attracted to them; and don't think they don't watch! And, while we're at it, let's ban commercials filled with sexual content.

I see nothing racist about the book, but rather a story of a loving family: mother and father giving the very best they could to their son who was so very proud of the gift. A great lesson on why it's wrong to take something from someone can be learned from the bullying tigers and how their greed was their end, and the boy's patience brought him good in the end.

If you're interested in reading more about the controversy surrounding this story, and some readers' comments, Google has a long list. Meanwhile, here's the "rest of the story":


  1. everything is about being politically correct now days - I remember that book and enjoyed it and found nothing to be a racial slur - I find the advertisements and some comedy shows on tv to more offensive - but that is me :)

  2. Oh, my! I would hate to think how long it has been since I read this old, old story! Well, all I can say is that I surely do like the way it turns out!

  3. It's weird that you wrote about this today, because I was thinking about something similar from what I read last night in The Yearling (yes, I'm still working on it!). I had thought I might write about it on my blog, then I thought I wouldn't, but now I may just go ahead and do it.

  4. We had this book when I was a child. I hadn't thought of it for years. I can't remember ever thinking it was offensive.

  5. I've just been visiting to see some of your lovely quilts and dolls. I see you have a star similar to the one finished by Cinders. I would have loved to bring it home with me, but it was truly meant to go back to Teresa! You have some lovely doll quilts, and furniture. I have been enjoying cruising around!
    I happened upon this post. Just last week my daughter asked if we still had the story book that had Little Black Sambo in it. It was her favorite story. I still have the book, it was published the year my hubby was born,1947, and belonged to him. The prints are so colorful, and of course it's such a wonderful story. I remember when the copy at the local libary was removed.......such a shame. I recently read where Tom Sawyer has been rewritten to exclude offensive language, and of course it's been banned from public schools for a long time. I am so tired of all this political correctness! I think I have been silent too long. I am going to work on a post for my blog. You inspire me.