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This is not just a PC version of a classic children's tale
on 28 May 2004
If you asked most children today about "The Story of Little Black Sambo," they would probably just give you a puzzled look. Helen Bannerman's story, first published in 1899 and enshrined at one point at Sambo restaurants around the country (specializing in pancakes), is transformed by Fred Marcellino into what might be dismissed by some as simply a political correct version of the original. But to tell you the truth, the part that first offended me about the original story was the implication that there were tigers in Africa. Of course, eventually my eyes were opened to the story's more racist elements. Marcellino's version of the story is clearly set in India, with perfectly innocuous names (Babaji, Papaji and Mamaji) and there is a "soft" quality to his artwork that enhances the telling of the tale. For my money this is an acceptable and worthwhile transformation of Bannerman's story, which is still available, albeit more as a curiosity. Children today can read "The Story of Little Babaji" and have no inkling that this is probably the most controversial children's story ever written. I would even argue there would be some value in telling them about the original version, so they can appreciate the reason for Marcellino's alterations. However, some of them might have concerns about eating all that butter...