Today seemed like the perfect time to talk about this enduring classic — it’s Banned Books Week, and, equally important, this story ends with a huge helping of pancakes!
I’ve loved Little Black Sambo since childhood and was not fully aware of all the details regarding its controversial history until recently. It’s been continuously in print since 1899, ever since the copyright was sold outright to a London publisher for a mere five pounds. Subsequently, the author lost all control over the more than 50 pirated editions distributed in ensuing decades. Many of these contained offensive illustrations perpetuating racial stereotypes — pictures not created by Scotswoman Helen Bannerman herself.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Bannerman’s own illustrations were not disputed. Innocently enough, she wrote the story for her two daughters while living in India, and never really intended to publish it until a friend encouraged her to do so. Bannerman mixed fanciful elements — one of the first black heroes in children’s literature encountering and outsmarting ferocious tigers in India, with a meal at the end featuring European pancakes.