Monday, February 27, 2012

The Most Controversial Children's Book Ever!

The honor of being the most controversial children's book ever goes to the story of Little Black Sambo.  The story itself is clever and inventive, but the accompanying illustrations and names of characters was unanimously deemed racist.  I remember reading a copy that had belonged to my mother when she was a child at my grandma's house in North Carolina.  Being too young to recognize racist undertones, I really enjoyed the story.  The boy comes out the big hero and he did it by using nothing but his wits.  Not a bad fable if you ask me, but as an adult I recognize how it could have been done differently  Alas, it is a classic example of the way things were, and what was acceptable in the past versus today.  I'm not condoning the depiction of our hero and his family.  In my eyes Sambo is brave and clever, and I choose to think of him as such.

All that being said, I found a rare copy of the book in a pile of vintage kid's books that had been discarded in a dumpster (don't worry, they were all rescued!).  What makes this particular 1933 copy remarkable is the "Animated" illustrations.  Lets set aside the controversy for a moment and enjoy the story itself.



"Preface- There is very little to say about Little Black Sambo.  Once upon a time there was an English lady in India, where black children abound and tigers are everyday affairs, who had 2 little girls.  To amuse these little girls she would, now and then, invent stories, for which, being extremely talented, she also drew and colored the pictures.  Among these stories Little Black Sambo, which was the favorite. The story is now published in this animated edition in the hope that you will
like it even more than the two little girls did.
"


Once upon a time there was a little black boy, and his name was Little Black Sambo.  And his Mother was called Black Mumbo.

And his Father was called black Jumbo.

And Black Mumbo made him a beautiful little Red Coat, and a...

pair of beautiful little Blue Trousers.

And Black Jumbo went to the Bazaar, and bought him a beautiful Green Umbrella, and a lovely little Pair of Purple Shoes with Crimson Soles and Crimson Linings.

And then wasn't Little Black Sambo grand?

So he put on all his Fine Clothes, and went out for a walk in the Jungle.  And by and by he met a Tiger.  And the Tiger said to him, "Little Black Sambo, I'm going to eat you up!"  And Little Black Sambo said, "Oh! Please, Mr. Tiger, don't eat me up,

and I'll give you my beautiful little Red Coat".  So the Tiger said "Very well, I won't eat you this time, but you must give me your Beautiful little Red Coat."

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."
And Little Black Sambo went on, and by and by he met another Tiger, and it said to him "Little Black Sambo, I'm going to eat you up!" And Little Black Sambo said, "Oh Please Mr. Tiger, don't eat me up, and I'll give you my beautiful little Blue Trousers."
So the Tiger said, "Very well, I won't eat you this time, but you must give me your beautiful Little Blue Trousers."  So the Tiger got poor Little Black Sambo's beautiful Little Blue Trousers, and went away saying, "Now I'm the grandest Tiger in the Jungle."
And Little Black Sambo went on, and by and by he met another Tiger, and it said to him "Little Black Sambo, I'm going to eat you up!" And Little Black Sambo said, "Oh Please Mr. Tiger, don't eat me up, and I'll give you my beautiful little Purple Shoes with Crimson Soles and Crimson Linings."  But the Tiger said, "What use would your shoes be to me?  I've got four feet and you've only got two: you haven't enough shoes for me." But Little Black Sambo said, "You could wear them on your ears."

"So I could," said the Tiger: "That's a very good idea.  Give them to me and I won't eat you this time."  So the Tiger got poor Little Black Sambo's Purple Shoes with the Crimson Linings and the Crimson soles, and went away saying "I'm the grandest Tiger in the Jungle." And by and by Little Black Sambo met another tiger and it said to him,

 "Little Black Sambo, I'm going to eat you up!" And Little Black Sambo said, "Oh Please Mr. Tiger, don't eat me up, and I'll give you my beautiful Green Umbrella." But the Tiger said "How can I carry an umbrella, when I need all my paws for walking with?"

"You could tie a knot on your tail, and carry it that way," said Little Black Sambo. "So I could, " said the Tiger. "Give it to me and I won't eat you this time."

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

And Little Black Sambo went away crying, because the cruel Tigers had taken all of his fine clothes.

Presently he heard a horrible noise that sounded like "Gr-r-r-r-rrrrrrr", and it got louder and louder. "Oh Dear!" said Little Black Sambo, "There are all the Tigers coming back to eat me up! What shall I do?"  So he ran quickly to a palm tree and peeped round to see what the matter was.

And there he saw the Tigers fighting and disputing which of them was the grandest.  And at last they jumped up and took off all of the fine clothes, and began to tear each other with their claws, and bit each other with their great big white teeth.
And they came rolling and tumbling right to the foot of the very tree where Little Black Sambo was hiding, but he jumped quickly in behind the umbrella.  And the Tigers all caught hold of each other's tails as they wrangled and scrambled, and so they found themselves in a ring round the tree.

Then while the Tigers were wrangling and scrambling, Little Black Sambo jumped up, and called out, "Oh Tigers! Why have you taken off all of your nice clothes? Don't you want them any more?  But the Tigers only answered "Gr-rr-rr!"
Then Little Black Sambo said "If you want them, say so, or I'll take them away"But the Tigers would not let go of each others' tails and so they could only say "Grrr-rr-rrrrrr!"

And the Tigers were very very angry, but still they would not let go of each others' tails.  And they were so angry that they ran up, and they ran faster and faster till they were whirling round so fast that you couldn't see their legs at all. 
 
(I think that a page is missing on the left here, but the Tigers ran so fast, they melted into butter!)

Now Black Jumbo was just coming home from his work with a great big brass pot in his arms and when he saw what was left of the Tigers he said, "Oh what lovely melted butter! I'll take that home to Black Mumbo for her to cook with."

So he put it all into the great big brass pot and took it home to Black Mumbo to cook with.  When Black Mumbo saw the melted butter, wasn't she pleased! "Now," said she, "we'll all have pancakes for supper!"

So she got flour and eggs and milk and sugar and butter and she made a huge plate of the most lovely pancakes.  And she fried them in the melted butter which the Tigers had made, and they were just as yellow and brown and little tigers.

And then they all sat down to supper. And Black Mumbo ate twenty-seven pancakes, and Black Jumbo ate fifty-five, but

Little Black Sambo ate a hundred and sixty nine, because he was so hungry.

Now, here are some videos of the Animations in action!









So, take it for what it is, a nice story presented in a very politically incorrect way!  It is definitely a reminder that not everything about the past was idyllic!  Sometimes its good to be right here in the present!  You can read more about the history of LBS on Wikipedia here.  My copy of the book is currently on sale on Ebay, just in case you are a collector!

6 comments:

  1. I never knew there was a book! I have the story record (on a 45) that I cant even being to tell you how many times I listened too as a kid! Thats really neat Amber!

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  2. Thanks for sharing Amber. Definitely controversial, but this is something worth preserving.

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  3. Holy cow, who throws away books??!! Another awesome post, and kudos for the great video clips too!

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  4. I have a collection of Sambo stuff...my last roommate wouldnt let me hang these amazing bookplates because they were "racist"...so lame.

    Anyways..I am surprised this only sold for less than $50. I know it was free but it really is rare and fantastic.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  5. The story would've been a good kids story if the characters weren't black.

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    Replies
    1. To the above Anonymous, May 26, 2013 at 1:59. Sad reflection of your white thinking.

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