Helen Bannerman’s

Little Black Sambo and the Twins

narrated by Paul Wing

Music by Henri René and his Orchestra

Helen Bannerman (1862–1946) was the Scottish author of a number of children’s books, the most notable being Little Black Sambo. She was born in Edinburgh and, because women were not admitted as students into British Universities, she sat external examinations set by the University of St. Andrews and attained the qualification of LLA. She lived a good proportion of her life in India where her husband William Bannerman was an officer in the Indian Medical Service, including 32 years in Madras.

The heroes of many of her books are recognizably south Indian or Tamil children from the illustrations and use of words. For instance, Little Black Sambo has Ghee, Tigers, and Bazaar, Little Black Mingo has Jungle, Mugger, Dhobi, and Mongoose, Little Black Quasha has Bazaar, and Tigers, and Little Black Quibba has Mangoes and Elephants. The books have nothing to do with Africa or African people, and the plots celebrate the intelligence and ingenuity of the children. However, the name Sambo has come to be seen as a slur on people of colour and the books have often been blacklisted or censored. This prompted a new version co-authored by Fred Marcellino called The Story of Little Babaji, with the names of the main characters changed. Earlier, in 1976, Platt & Munk Publishers had issued a version of Little Black Sambo, with the parent’s names identifiably Indian, and the picturesque illustrations altered to indicate decidedly Indian clothing.

Bannerman was the grandmother of the physicist Tom Kibble, who discovered the Higgs–Kibble mechanism and the Higgs boson.


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