A New Interpretation for 'Little Black Sambo' Little Black Sambo has not 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. A new version by Christopher Bing seeks to restore the story as a childhood favorite.
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A New Interpretation for 'Little Black Sambo'

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A New Interpretation for 'Little Black Sambo'

A New Interpretation for 'Little Black Sambo'

Lifting a Children's Book Out of a Racist and Troubled History

A New Interpretation for 'Little Black Sambo'

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Christopher Bing has re-illustrated Helen Bannerman's controversial tale, The Story of Little Black Sambo, and added touches such as a tiger-clawed cover and yellowed pages to create the illusion of an antique, weathered storybook. Christopher Bing/Handprint Books hide caption

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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.