The Story of Little Black Sambo: a book with a checkered past

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.

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pancakes picture book short stack

Ah, the wonder of pancakes!!

Does any other breakfast treat arouse as much unabashed joy and anticipation among diners of all ages? Whether you call them hotcakes, griddle cakes, flapjacks, flatcars, or heavenly hots, the reaction is the same. Almost every culture in the world has its own version of the pancake (crepes, blinis, galettes), and they’re all special. They’re also pretty ancient, dating back to Roman times.

As far as children’s books, pancakes outnumber bagels, pies, and cookies. They are the perfect example of how a beloved food establishes instant reader interest and connection, reinforced by the power of sensual description.

The first pancake stories, which have a long history and dubious European origin, fall into the Aarne-Thompson 2025 folktale classification of fleeing food. Earliest recorded versions, such as “The Runaway Pancake,” date back to 19th century Germany and Norway. During this same period, the gingerbread man stories became popular in America. I suppose, then, we could rightly call pancakes the first “fast food.”

But I won’t let them get away from you today. Here are some of my favorite pancake picture books, hot off the griddle, and guaranteed to make your kiddos, ages 4-8, flip!

Get ’em while they’re hot!

friday feast: politics for breakfast

“Nothing helps scenery like ham and eggs.” ~ Mark Twain

Who me? Talk about politics?

I’d rather eat liver.

But there’s no escaping it. I tried to buy some bacon the other day, and the checkout girl asked if I had foreign policy experience. Okay, not really, but I’ve inhaled so much political hot air that sometimes I feel like I’m going to explode.

Oinkety oink oink!

What a tough campaign — people are apt to say anything just to get elected. Spin on top of spin can make a body ravenous for some meaningful sustenance. That’s why today I’m serving up some ham ham ham.

Whether you like your eggs on the left or right side of your plate, or are desperately trying to find a good spot in the middle, it’s wise to chew slowly, so you don’t choke on all the rhetoric.

Just remember: if all else fails, vote for Porky!


by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton

I can promise you this: food in the White House
will change! No more granola, only fried eggs
flipped the way we like them. And ham ham ham!
Americans need ham! Nothing airy like debate for me!
Pigs will become the new symbol of glee,
displacing smiley faces and “Have a Nice Day.”

(Rest is here.)

The lovely Tricia, of The Miss Rumphius Effect, is our Poetry Friday hostess today. I wonder if she has any mustard to go with all this ham?

If you’d like to see what the next president of the United States recently had for breakfast, watch this. He’s been my choice from the beginning, and I sincerely hope you vote for him, too. Bring on the debates!


do you know the muffin man?

Punch 1892)


No, but I wish I did!

What a lovely thought, having warm, freshly baked muffins delivered to your front door! Back in the 19th century, the muffin man wandered the streets of England around teatime, ringing his bell and tempting everyone with his offerings.

But the muffins he peddled were not like the “American” muffins we are familiar with today. They were actually flat round cakes made from yeast dough. There’s always been a bit of confusion concerning muffins, crumpets, English muffins, and pikelets. Today, a muffin in England is more like a light textured roll, round and flat, and if you went to the grocers in search of “English muffins,” you wouldn’t find any. I was surprised to discover this when I lived there in the late 70’s.

But to me, it’s all good. Mere mention of a “muffin” and you’ve got my full attention.

I’ve already shared my favorite recipes for blueberry and pumpkin muffins on this blog. So today, I’m serving up some cranberry orange, which are perfect for fall and the upcoming holiday season. Len and I love these for Christmas breakfast, too. The recipe actually calls for the big Texas-size muffin tins, but I’ve made them using standard size tins. Love ’em!

(yield: one dozen regular, 6 Texas size)

1 cup chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp freshly grated orange peel
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup orange juice
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease muffin tin or use paper baking cups.

Mix cranberries, 1/4 cup sugar and orange peel; set aside.

In large bowl, combine all dry ingredients except nuts. In a separate bowl, mix oil, juice and eggs. Pour all at once into dry ingredients and stir only until moistened. Add cranberries and nuts. Divide batter evenly into muffin cups. Bake 25 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes before removing.



Click here to view Amy Winfrey’s animated muffin films. She did them for her MFA thesis at the UCLA Animation Workshop, and they’re way cool. Just click on the paper muffin cups for 12 different vignettes. Be sure to see the Muffinale! So adorable!

For some muffinalia ala Good Eats’ Alton Brown, click here.

For the kiddos: Daniel Pinkwater indulges his penchant for muffins in the Irving and Muktuk series, and in The Muffin Fiend (Skylark, 1987), where Wolfgang Mozart discovers who’s stealing all the muffins in Vienna. Perfect for off-the-wall dining.

And don’t forget the classic, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, by Laura Numeroff (HarperTrophy, 1994).


seduced by bacon

"I’ve long said that if I were about to be executed and were given a choice of my last meal, it would be bacon and eggs . . . Nothing is quite as intoxicating as the smell of bacon frying in the morning."  ~ James Beard

(Vegetarians, look away.)

I’m definitely not a morning person, but for bacon I’ll get up.

One whiff of those divine pieces of pork belly sizzling in a pan, and I’m floating downstairs, dreaming of cozy Sunday mornings and finding my way back home.

Bacon ranks right up there with chocolate as a top-ranking guilty pleasure. We know we shouldn’t have any, but find it impossible to resist. Just one piece, maybe two. Absolutely scrumptious biting into it, eyes rolling back in the head, and then a sense of "man, am I going to pay for this," afterwards.

But hoo boy, this brand of ecstasy is worth it.

Despite warnings about saturated fat and nitrates, bacon is selling better than ever in the U.S. About 2 billion pounds of it is produced each year, 70% of it consumed at breakfast. Over 50% of American households claim to have bacon on hand at all times. Like Emeril always says, pork fat!! You simply can’t beat it for flavor; even a little bit added to a recipe yields a big payoff.

It seems bacon has always been held in high esteem. Back in 12th century England, a church in the town of Dunmow awarded a side of bacon to any man who could swear he hadn’t quarreled with his wife in a year and a day. He was greatly admired for his forbearance, and henceforth was known as one who could "bring home the bacon."

These days, women bring home the whole pig. With or without lipstick.

And right now, this woman is going to share her favorite method of cooking bacon.

Much as I love the crack, pop and sizzle, I hate cleaning greasy frying pans and spattered stove tops. Broiled bacon is equally messy, and I don’t like heating up the whole oven just to bake a few strips.

No, here in the alphabet soup kitchen, we use the microwave. In the past, I used a special ridged microwave plate specially made for cooking bacon. But who wants to wash that thing? The older you get, the more your life is about convenience.

So here, for the first time ever, my favorite method, aka,


Step 1: Blindfold any pigs who live at your house. Refrain from calling anyone "Babe."


Step 2: Fold two grocery bags in half crosswise, then slide one inside the other. Place two paper towels on top, then position bacon slices. Place another towel over the bacon to prevent spattering.


Step 3: Microwave on high, about 1 minute for each slice being cooked. (Cooking time varies depending on how crisp you like your bacon. It’s wise to test after 2-3 minutes.)

      After 3-1/2 minutes (I like my bacon chewy.)

Step 4: Devour the bacon, then throw the greasy bags away. No dishes to wash, no spatters to clean up. Brown bags also absorb grease better than paper plates.


If you find yourself stealing your kids’ bacon, ease your guilt by reading them this book:

 picture book for ages 4-8 (Harper, 1989), 32 pp.

If you simply can’t stop oinking, test your bacon and belly fat IQ here.