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LibGuide: Little Black Sambo

Children’s Literature is frequently used as a means of introducing and promoting those values which hold importance to society. Unfortunately, this literature can also be used to support the prejudices which underlie those values. For over 100 years, the story of Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman, has served as an example of the complicated nature of racial depictions in children's literature. The resources below cover the complicated history of Little Black Sambo, the history of racial depictions in children's literature, and the rise of African American-positive children's literature during the Black Arts Movement.

Useful Databases

  • Academic Search Complete
  • Black Studies Center
  • NAACP Papers
  • America History & Life
  • MLA International Bibliography

Digitized Children's Literature

Bannerman, H. (1899). The story of Little Black Sambo. Lippincott.

  • Abstract: Bannerman's original telling of Little Black Sambo.

Hay, E. (1981). Sambo Sahib: The Story of Little Black Sambo and Helen Bannerman. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble.

  • Abstract: Hay examines the story and consequences of Little Black Sambo.

Bader, B. (1996). Sambo, Babaji, and Sam. The Horn Book Magazine,72(5), 536.

  • Abstract: Bader discusses the history of public opinion surrounding Bannerman's The Story of Little Black Sambo.

Yuill, P., Bannerman, Helen, & Council on Interracial Books for Children. (1976). Little Black Sambo: A closer look: A history of Helen Bannerman's The story of Little Black Sambo and its popularity/controversy in the United States. New York: Racism and Sexism Resource Center for Educators.

  • Abstract: A brief history of Little Black Sambo including an overview of publishing history, controversy regarding illustrations, names, and themes, and measures taken to mitigate these controversies.

Mielke, Tammy. (2011). Transforming a Stereotype: Little Black Sambo's American Illustrators. In Crossing Textual Boundaries in International Children's Literature (pp. 242-259). Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars.

  • Abstract: Mielke provides an in-depth analysis of illustration in Little Black Sambo, with a primary focus on the African American stereotypes reflected in later versions of the story. 

Susina, Jan. (1999). Reviving or Revising Helen Bannerman's The Story of Little Black Sambo: Postcolonial Hero or Signifying Monkey? In Voices of the Other: Children's Literature and the Postcolonial Context (Children's Literature and Culture, pp. 237-52). New York, NY: Garland.

  • Abstract: Susina addresses the ambiguity of Bannerman's characters and examines the 1996 retelling of the Sambo story in Julius Lester's Sam and the Tigers.

Barton, P., & Pictus Orbus Press. (1998). The Pictus Orbis® Sambo: Being a publishing history, checklist and price guide for the story of Little Black Sambo. Sun City, Calif.: Pictus Orbis Press.

  • Abstract: A publishing history and a catalog of Little Black Sambo books published throughout the 20th century.

Martin, M. (1998). "Hey, Who's the Kid with the Green Umbrella?" Re-evaluating the Black-a-Moor and Little Black Sambo. The Lion and the Unicorn,22(2), 147-162.

  • Abstract: Martin undertakes a critical assessment and comparison of the books Little Black Sambo and Black-a-Moor and suggests that LBS is representative of a shift from instruction to delight.

Pilgrim, D. (2012). The Picaninny Caricature. Retrieved from http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/picaninny/ 

  • Abstract: Pilgrim traces the history of the picaninny, a racist caricature of black children popular during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Rollins, C., & National Council of Teachers of English. (1941). We build together; a reader's guide to Negro life and literature for elementary and high school use (Pamphlet publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. no. 2). Chicago, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English.

  • Abstract: Rollins' seminal publication discussing the effects of racist literature on African American students.

Capshaw, K. (2014). Civil rights childhood: Picturing liberation in African American photobooks. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Abstract: Capshaw explores the function of children's photographic books and the image of the black child in social justice campaigns for school integration and the civil rights movement.
Capshaw, K. (2006). Children's literature of the Harlem Renaissance (Blacks in the diaspora). Bloomington, Ind: Chesham: Indiana University Press ; Combined Academic [distributor].
  • Abstract: Capshaw analyzes childhood as a site of emerging black cultural nationalism. It explores the Harlem Renaissance's vigorous exchange about  the nature and identity of black childhood and uncovers the networks of African Americans who worked together to transmit black history and culture to a new generation.

Bishop, R. (2007). Free within ourselves : The development of African American children's literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

  • Abstract: Bishop presents a history of African American literature for children from its beginnings in the oral culture of the slaves of the South to the initial church works of the nineteenth century and its full emergence as a literature following the Harlem Renaissance.

Harris, Violet J. (1990). African American Children's Literature: The First One Hundred Years. Journal of Negro Education,59(4), 540-55.

  • Abstract: Surveys the historical development of literature written for African American children from the late nineteenth century to the present. 

Morgan, H. (2011). Over One Hundred Years of Misrepresentation: American Minority Groups in Children's Books. American Educational History Journal,38(1/2), 357-376.

  • Abstract: Morgan examines the ways in which various minority groups including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans have been portrayed in children's literature over the last century.

Zimmerman, J. (2004). Brown‐ing the American Textbook: History, Psychology, and the Origins of Modem Multiculturalism. History of Education Quarterly,44(1), 46-69.

  • Abstract: Zimmerman explores the fight against racist imagery and text in American textbooks over the last 60+ years.

Little Black Sambo Retellings and other Bannerman Books

Bannerman, H. (1903). The story of Little Black Quibba. Frederick A. Stokes.

Bannerman, H., & James Nisbet Co. (1900). The story of Little Black Mingo (2nd ed.). London: James Nisbet &.

Bannerman, H. (1907). The story of the teasing monkey. New York: F.A. Stokes.

Bannerman, H. (1936). The story of Sambo and the twins. Philadelphia; New York: J.B. Lippincott Company.

Bannerman, H. (1937). The story of Little Black Bobtail. New York: Frederick A. Stokes.

Bannerman, H. (1942). The jumbo Sambo. New York, Philadelphia: Frederick A. Stokes.

Bannerman, H. (1966). The story of Little White Squibba. London: Chatto & Windus.

Lester, J., Bierhorst, Jane Byers, Dial Books for Young Readers, Pinkney, Jerry, & Bannerman, Helen. (1996). Sam and the tigers: A new telling of Little Black Sambo (1st ed.). New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.
Bannerman, H., & Marcellino, Fred. (1996). The story of Little Babaji (1st ed.). New York]: HarperCollins.
Isaacs, A., Teague, Mark, & Bannerman, Helen. (2006). Pancakes for supper! (1st ed.). New York: Scholastic Press.

Little Black Sambo Timeline

1898 - Helen Bannerman writes the story of Little Black Sambo for her two young daughters

1899 - Bannerman sells the copyrights for Little Black Sambo to publisher Grant Richards (London)

1899 - Original Little Black Sambo with Bannerman illustrations published widely

1900 - Grant Richards sells copyrights to Frederick A. Stokes publishing (New York)

1908 - Little Black Sambo (illustrated by John. R. Neil) published by Reilly and Britton

1917 - All About Little Black Sambo (illustrated by John Gruelle) published by Cupples & Leon

1918- Little Black Sambo (illustrated by Florence White Williams) published 

1926 - Little Black Sambo (illustrated by Cobb X. Shinn) published by Albert Whitman and Co.

1927 - Little Black Sambo (illustrated by Frank Dobias) published by Macmillian Company

1928 - Little Black Sambo (illustrated by Eulalie) published by Platt & Munk Co., Inc.

1930s - First known publish pushback to the use of Little Black Sambo in schools

1931 - Little Black Sambo (illustrated by Hildegard Lupprian) published by McLoughlin Brothers

1941 - J.B. Lippencott publishing acquires Frederick A. Stokes

1943 - Little Black Sambo (illustrated by Julian Wehr) published by Duenewald Printing Company.

1978 - Harper & Row purchases J.B. Lippencott publishing

1987 - NewsCorp acquires Harper & Row

1989 - NewsCorp takes over William Collins & Sons

1990 - Merger of William Collins & Sons and Harper & Row to form HarperCollins Publishers

1996 - Julius Lester publishes Sam and the Tigers. Marcellino publishes The story of Little Babaji