Book, Little Black Sambo
Book, Little Black Sambo
Book, Little Black Sambo
Book, Little Black Sambo
Book, Little Black Sambo
Book, Little Black Sambo

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Tier 3

African American History Books ➔ Book, Little Black Sambo

Little Black Sambo is a controversial children's book. It was first written and illustrated by Helen Bannerman in 1899 and reprinted and revised many times throughout the twentieth century. This version of the book dates to about c.1996 was published by Applewood Books, Bedford, MA. with text and illustrations reprinted from the 1921 Bannerman publication.

The plot according to Wikipedia is about a South Indian boy who lives with his father and mother, named Black Jumbo and Black Mumbo, respectively. While out walking, Sambo encounters four hungry tigers and surrenders his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella so they will not eat him. The tigers are vain and each thinks he is better dressed than the others. They chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of melted butter. Sambo then recovers his clothes and collects the butter, which his mother uses to make pancakes.

The controversy lies in the depiction of the Little Black Sambo character as a picaninny caricature. According to an essay by Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology of Ferris University that is featured on Ferris’ Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, he defines the picaninny as the “dominant racial caricature of black children for most of this country's history. They were "child coons," miniature versions of Stepin Fetchit. Picaninnies had bulging eyes, unkempt hair, red lips, and wide mouths into which they stuffed huge slices of watermelon.” 

It was in the 1930s that poet and social activist Langston Hughes first criticized the book as being offensive and hurtful to black children. The book fell out of favor soon after, however; throughout the twentieth century, there have been attempts by some to make the book more available through adaptations and revisions. Little Black Sambo has long been recognized as depicting the most controversial image of the picaninny and therefore is a significant historical artifact. To read the full essay at Ferris State University visit:;Bannerman, Helen. Little Black Sambo. Boston, Massachusetts: Applewood Books, 1921.
circa 1996
5 5/8" h 4 1/4" w 3/16" d
Gift of Vonna Meier

Meier, Vonna
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