A New Interpretation for 'Little Black Sambo'
Lifting a Children's Book Out of a Racist and Troubled History
The original story of Little Black Sambo has never gone out of print since it was first published in 1899. But the controversy around racist interpretations of "Sambo" has been so intense that the book disappeared from many bookshelves.
The story, written by Scotswoman Helen Bannerman, tells of a little boy who wanders into the jungle and surrenders his clothing piece by piece to ferocious tigers. The tigers then turn on each other in a jealous rage. As the tigers chase each other, they run so fast they melt into butter. On his way home, Little Black Sambo's father finds the pool of butter, scoops it up into a pot and takes it home. Little Black Sambo's mother decides to use the butter to make a great pancake feast for dinner.
The book was one of illustrator Christopher Bing's childhood favorites. He's reinterpreted the book, accompanying the original text with a meticulous re-drawing of Little Black Sambo. NPR's Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered, talks about the book's troubled history with Bing and David Pilgrim, curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Big Rapids, Michigan.