Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Transcript: A Discussion of Little Black Sambo in Three Different Books

A hearing impaired reader of my blog recently pointed out to me that at this point in time we produce no transcripts of my podcast. She wondered if one might be made available from our Little Black Sambo episode. Kate then took the time to type up the entire discussion. After that I went through and formatted it to its present form. I cannot say that we are delivering any deep, philosophical insights you cannot find better put elsewhere, but in case you’re curious here’s the text for your enjoyment.

Oh, and for those of you who like to transcribe, I was alerted to this free tool that uses Google docs to transcribe speech. There’s your tip of the week.


Transcript for “The Story of Little Black Sambo” – Fuse 8 n’ Kate




Two sisters lived on separate sides of the States

One in NYC, and the other L.A.

They both moved to Chicago and decided to stay

Now here’s their playful podcast packed with kid lit parley


Children’s books (are they really that great?)

Talking children’s books is, with Kate and Fuse 8

Children’s books (Why, what and how? )

Fuse 8 and Kate will break it down for you now…


Betsy: (British accent) ‘ello ‘ello!

Kate: Hi!

Betsy: (Australian/British accent) Eh, ‘alf a mo! Put a shrimp on the ‘ol Barbie.

Kate: You went from Brit to Australian

Betsy: (keeping the bad accent) It’s the same fake accent! It’s all part and parcel, Mary Poppins.

Kate: Now do South African.

Betsy: I can’t. That’s impossible. I also can’t do anything from the Netherlands.

Kate: Or New Zealand?

Betsy: Certainly!…. well, no but I did watch a lot of “Flight of the Conchords” so I think that counts for something.

Kate: …no.


Betsy: Okay, maybe not, maybe not. (Kate laughs). So I heard, (this was on another podcast) they were talking about ratings. You know, when you rate things from one to ten. Now somebody on this podcast said (“What podcast Betsy?” Shut up.) that you should just eliminate six entirely from a one to ten scale because six is wishy-washy, seven is commitment, anything below six is fine. But never say the number six.

Kate: I disagree.

Betsy: Have we ever said six?

Kate: Sure. When I think something is a classic my down the middle is five.

Betsy: Yeah.

Kate: And if I give it a six, that means, “All right.”

Betsy: It’s a toe over the line.

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: Yeah that makes sense to me.

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: But they were saying it’s wishy-washy.

Kate: Well, they’re wrong.

Betsy: Ok (Kate laughs) Sorry, podcast-I-can’t-remember-the-name-of. We disagree! All right, excellent.


Ah… who are you?


Kate: I’m Kate.

Betsy: Ohh..

Kate: Katharine. Katharine the Great.

Betsy: Katharine.. “When Catherine the Great and Me Were Eight”…wait, that’s a picture book. Nevermind.

Kate: Oh.

Betsy: Yeah… “and I Were Eight.” My grammar got all crazy.

Kate: It’s okay.

Betsy: I’m Betsy.

Kate: It’s not like you were an English major or anything.

Betsy: Shut up! (Kate laughs). I’m Betsy and this is Fuse 8 n’ Kate.

Kate: Yep.

Betsy: It’s a podcast.

Kate: It is.

Betsy: It’s where we talk about books…

Kate: …mmm hmmm…

Betsy: …specifically picture books…

Kate: …sometimes…

Betsy: …and determine if they should be classics or not.

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: So… today is special in a weird way. Now we were a little punch drunk on the last one. It was very funny episode. It was my favorite episode that we’ve ever done.

Kate: Wow.

Betsy: I’m actually going to go out and say that. And that is including…

Kate: Babar. For the record.

Betsy: Babar.

Kate: The Babar is your favorite.

Betsy: The Babar episode was my favorite. I felt our banter was right, right up there.

Kate: It was on point.

Betsy: We didn’t have the material that we might have with, say, a “Berenstain Bears” bully book, but I thought we did really well.

Kate: Pat on the back to us. Pat pat.

Betsy: Pat pat. So I figured I’d ruin it all this week.

Kate: Great.

Betsy: Because we’ve done, “Curious George”…

Kate: Yes.

Betsy: And we’ve done “Babar”…

Kate: Yes.

Betsy: So I’m going to do a book today that is downright dangerous. To a certain extent. But I want us to look at it with a really keen eye. Just to bring us back: remember when we did, “Tikki Tikki Tembo”?

Kate: Mmmm hmmm.

Betsy: Okay, here you have “Tikki Tikki Tembo”, a book that was considered a beloved classic for a very long time, and recently, has been fading from all those “Best Of” lists due to its… oh, let’s say…

Betsy and Kate: Racism.

Betsy: Yeah, that would be it. Okay, well in 1932, Langston Hughes was one of the voices that objected to today’s book. It was on all sorts of “Best Of” lists and then disappeared from them. Not just because of him. A lot of other people spoke out against it, but I can tell you, finding the original in a library? Can’t be done unless you’re going to a reference library.

Kate: So it’s been redone?

Betsy: Many times.

Kate: With new text?

Betsy: Sometimes? Sometimes not. Sometimes with new pictures. Usually with new pictures. Always. Always with new pictures. Can you guess what the book might be?

Kate: I have no idea.

Betsy: Oh, you’re going to be shocked. I’m going to bring out three books. You don’t have to read all three. Here’s the first one.

Kate: (drumroll) “The Story of Little Black Sambo”.

Betsy: Yeah. Who wrote that thing?

Kate: Helen Bannerman.

Betsy: Helen Bannerman, that’s right. Now, that’s my first book. This one is illustrated by a Mr. Christopher Bing. But let’s dip into Betsy’s Bag of Wonderfulness and pull out another book. Oh! This is, “The Story of Little Babaji by Fred Marcellino… no… it’s not actually. You can see it’s Helen Bannerman, all over again. Same story, slightly different.


Ok, here I’m gonna give you the third book. Third book comes out, boop be doop de doop… “Sam and the Tigers”. This one’s by Julius Lester with pictures by Jerry Pinkney. These are all the same story but they are not the original. So the original was by Helen Bannerman who illustrated it herself and then in 1996 (the same year) two of these books (“The Story of Little Babaji” and “Sam and the Tigers”) come out at the exact same time. Because that just happens in children’s books. All the time. Randomly. Two things that haven’t been out for a million years will suddenly like come out at the exact same time. Like “Sentient Cheese”, for example. So these came out and then this came out, the actual “The Story of Little Black Sambo” with Christopher Bing’s art, in 2003.

Kate: Whaaat?

Betsy: And nothing else since then. All right? I’m going to give you the Christopher Bing book.

Kate: Ok.

Betsy: This is the one, but I’m keeping these other two in reserve here. You’re going to read that book. We’re going to talk about it.

Kate: I’m so scared.

Betsy: This book, the Christopher Bing, is very easy to get. I tried to get the original, because my library catalogue said we had it, and every time I put it on hold, this book came up, and not the original. So FYI.

Kate: Ok.

Betsy: Go read that thing.


Betsy: While Kate’s doing her reading, I’m going to give you my little background information on the book. So apparently, “The Story of Little Black Sambo” was very popular in Japan. In 1988, a firestorm of protest surrounding the popularity of “Little Black Sambo” memorabilia in Japan blew up in the States. Publishing companies in that country stopped producing the book. Because of glitches in the copyright law, according to Michael di Capua, the book is actually in the public domain in America. So, there ya go. That’s your little tip of the day.


Betsy: Helloooo…

Kate: (timidly) Hi..

Betsy: You’re back.

Kate: I am.

Betsy: You are. And you read a book.

Kate: Yes, I did.

Betsy: mmmm…

Kate: …mmm hmm…

Betsy:…yes, you did. So … we’re not going to do a funny voice for the description on this one.

Kate: Good!

Betsy: Yeah, no. Not going to touch that with a ten-foot pole.

Kate: Good.

Betsy: We have a very straight-forward encapsulation. I’ll read it!

Kate: Ok!

Betsy: Ok.


Betsy: “This book in only several hundred words and 27 pictures tells of a young boy whose parents give him some fancy clothes — a beautiful red coat, blue trousers, a green umbrella and purple-and-crimson shoes. He goes for a walk in the jungle where he encounters talking tigers that wish to eat him. To dissuade them, he offers each a different accouterment. The tigers get into a cat fight over who is the grandest. They begin to chase one another round and round the tree trunk, going faster and faster until they melt into a pool of clarified butter. The boy reclaims his clothes and takes the butter home to his mother, who cooks a batch of pancakes. He eats 169 of them.”


Betsy: Ok, I almost feel like I need to give some context before we dive in. Do you mind if I give a little context on this one?

Kate: Go for it.

Betsy: Okey dokey. I’ve heard so many differing accounts of this book. Here’s what we know: It was written in 1899 by Helen Bannerman…

Kate: So would you say this is the oldest book we’ve ever done?

Betsy: Yes, it’s two years older than “Peter Rabbit”. “Peter Rabbit” was 1901.

Kate: There ya go.

Betsy: And compare the art to “Peter”! Well this art, you didn’t see the original art.

Kate: Right.

Betsy: The original art, no good. Compared to “Peter Rabbit”, her art was not great. She was a Scot. She was married to a doctor in the British military. They lived in India. Okay, so either she wrote this story for her two daughters attending school back in Scotland or the family was living in India and she wrote it on a train when she was separated from her daughters.

Kate: That’s what the back of this book says.

Betsy: That’s one of the two versions. It sort of takes place in southern India, so in the original, there’s an argument that he is a southern Indian or, and I’m going to butcher the pronunciation, a Tamil child. Any book that came out that was popular back then was counterfeited and a million different versions, even when it was under copyright, would have come out, and were horrendously racist in their illustrations. More so even than her original illustrations could be interpreted as being.


So what’d’ya think? Cause this is a book where they decided to keep the original text but changed the images with the understanding that the images were the problem.


Kate: Well, the first thing that confuses me is, on this title page, it says, “Illustrations by Christopher Bing”…

Betsy: Right

Kate: …but then you get someone else’s initials on the bottom of the page.

Betsy: What the heck is that? “E Hay”?

Kate: Yeah. Who’s that?

Betsy: I have no idea who that is. Why would that even be there?

Kate: I don’t know.

Betsy: E. Hay…

Kate: So who is… who is E. Hay?

Betsy: I have no idea.

Kate: Because they did the illustrations.

Betsy: No, he did.

Kate: But then, it says “Bing” in the other corner.

Betsy: Okay, so he’s Bing, but… E. Hay? I mean that doesn’t even stand for Helen Bannerman.

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: I don’t know!

Kate: Ok!

Betsy: You found a mystery! No idea what that means.

Kate: But the drawings are beautiful, no matter who did them!

Betsy: Sure, very lovely.

Kate: The beautiful interpretations of the landscape, and the animals.

Betsy: He sets it in India, right?

Kate: Yes.

Betsy: Yeah. So he has an African-American child, or black child…

Kate: …mmmm…yeah…

Betsy: But it’s set in India.

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: Which is what, in some ways, she did.

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: Yeah.


Kate: So as you said, the animals, one by one, start taking some of his nice things

Betsy: Yep.

Kate: But they never show, like, the tiger who wears the jacket or the tiger who wears the pants. I wanna see…

Betsy: Okay, so I’m going to interrupt you here because I have two other editions here and in “The Story of Little Babaji”, this dude knew how to give the people what they wanted. So you’ve got a tiger who comes in and says,“I want your red coat”…

Kate: That’s all I wanted!
Betsy: That’s what you want, right? You wanna see the tiger wearing the teeny-tiny little coat.

Kate: That’s what I want.

Betsy: The tiger’s wearing his pants and they’re not fitting…. the tiger wearing the shoes on the ears…

Kate: But the tiger who’s like, “What am I going to do with shoes?” – I’m like, what are you going to do with pants??

Betsy: (laughing) I know! He’s a small child. He’s not even a grown man, and you’re squeezing into a pair of pants here.

Kate: Yeah, and then the tiger’s like, “What am I going to do with an umbrella?” – again, what are you going to do with a jacket?

Betsy: (laughing) True.


Kate: The illustrator, is he American?

Betsy: Well he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts and went to RISD so yes, I’m going to say yes, he’s American.

Kate: Then this would be the first cat anus of an American.

Betsy: Well, on our podcast but fair enough. Oh yes. Quite.

Kate: That is quite clearly…

Betsy: And … and some balls to match.

Kate: Yep!

Betsy: That’s… wow. That’s a male… that’s a male tiger…

Kate: That’s a male tiger!

Betsy: …in a picture book for small children. All right… (trails off)

Kate: Did you know that, I’m pretty sure this is true, cause I learned it a couple days ago: A lion’s roar can be heard five miles away.

Betsy: I did not know that.

Kate: It can get so loud you can hear it five miles away. That’s just a little random fact.

Betsy: Well, thank you. I did not know that.

Kate: Did you also know, for my senior thesis in college, I participated and starred in a play called, “Spinning into Butter”?

Betsy: Really?

Kate: Yes I did.

Betsy: Now you know what that’s from.

Kate: Yep.

Betsy: There’s no other way to interpret that. That’s a direct reference.

Kate: And the play tackled racism so that was…

Betsy: That was purposeful then.

Kate: Right.

Betsy: Yeah.


Kate: I don’t know what this says about me but as soon as it said that the tigers spun themselves into, and the text says here, “a great big pool of melted butter, or ghee (as it is called in India)” I immediately thought, “Oh, ghee! That’s Whole30 compliant!”

Betsy: (laughing) Ok, I’m so glad we got you off of that! That’s not a healthy thing to think immediately.

Kate: But that was immediately when I went, “Oh, this isn’t Africa.”

Betsy: Exactly.

Kate: This is India.

Betsy: It’s India.

Kate: You can kind of tell by what the father is wearing, I guess.

Betsy: But he’s trying to have it both ways. Yeah.

Kate: Yeah, but this clearly says, “India”.

Betsy: It is clearly India.


Kate: And then they get the pancakes at the end but… what? Who eats 169 pancakes??

Betsy: Yeah.. I eat..

Kate: The mom eats 27…

Betsy: If I eat three, I get super full.

Kate: Right.

Betsy: On pancakes.

Kate: You know why? Cause they’re pancakes.

Betsy: They’re pancakes, you can’t eat that many of them.

Kate: You’re not eating air!

Betsy: The most filling food in the world! But that kid, he downs his pancakes and I respect that. I respect his ability to eat that many.

Kate: I don’t because he’s going to throw all of that up and who’s going to clean it up? Mom and Dad.

Betsy: Yeah maybe… but at least… well no, actually he did get his nice clothes back so I guess it might go all over his nice clothes, yeah.


Kate: On the one hand, what the kid did was clever…

Betsy: Yes.

Kate: …by tricking the tigers into getting his clothes back because they couldn’t speak because they were all holding onto each other’s tails.

Betsy: Yep, mmm hmmm.

Kate: So that’s clever…

Betsy: Yep.

Kate: …but so racist.

Betsy: Yeah. This book (that book in particular, the one illustrated by Christopher Bing) comes out in 2003 and here is one of the objections to it from a Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint who said, “I don’t see how I can get past the title and what it means.”

Kate: Yep.
Betsy: “It would be like trying to do, ‘Little Black Darky’ and saying, ‘As long as I fix up the character so he doesn’t look like a darky on the plantation it’s ok.’” That’s the thing. The name.

Kate: So in the back of this book they have this section called, “Some thoughts and a bit of history on the publication of this edition”.

Betsy: That is like a newspaper.

Kate: The publisher of Handprint Books explains why Helen used the name “Sambo.” The reason that she justified using the name “Sambo” was because, “while Sam is an extremely common prefix for an Indian boy’s name, Samir, Samrod…” (I even work someone just named “Sam”) “the term had quite a different connotation in the Western hemisphere.” Now in the middle of the 19th century it meant a lazy black male so…

Betsy: But even before that (because, I’m now going to refer to us to the Julius Lester book, “Sam and the Tigers” which has its own fantastic backmatter) it says, “History has quote unquote” (he’s talking about how this was coming out during an era of social Darwinism, where people argued that the whites were the most “fit” and the people of black African descent the “least”) “Intentionally or not, Little Black Sambo reinforced the idea of white superiority through illustrations exaggerating African physiognomy and a name ‘Sambo’, that had been used negatively for blacks since the early seventeenth century.” So they’re trying to make excuses in the Bing book for keeping the name, saying, “Well… Sam is a thing in India…” but she didn’t have to put the “bo” in. The “bo”, that made it a whole different thing.

Kate: Yeah, but I do like that the back of this book does explain that with her first drawings, they were very clearly, blatantly, stereotypically, racist.

Betsy: Yeah.

Kate: So it’s nice that they acknowledge that.

Betsy: It is very nice. It’s funny how many..

Kate: Cause they didn’t have to add this back page with explanations.

Betsy: No, they didn’t and what’s interesting to me is how many things I’ve read where what comes up over and over again is people asking, “Was Helen Bannerman racist?” Well…yes. If you have to ask the question, yes. Did she mean to be? Probably she didn’t mean to be but of course she was racist! She was a white woman living in India in 1899. Yes, of course she was racist!

Kate: (sarcastically) But if that was the social norm, Betsy…

Betsy: Yeah yeah yeah, whatever, I don’t think we can do that anymore. But it’s so true.

Kate: Everyone was racist back then.

Betsy: Except possibly the people that the racism was being turned upon.


Betsy: So as I say, we have these other two books – “The Story of Little Babaji” where Fred Marcellino takes the original story, changes the names, and then makes it actually set in India. He was not himself Indian so take that with a grain of salt, but (it’s all the same text) instead of the parents having the names that I will not even, not even repeat in this particular thing but here it’s little Babaji…

Kate: Do you, do you want me to repeat?

Betsy: Eh, no. Not particularly. But in this his mom is Mamaji, his dad’s Papaji. Ehh, ok. But the tigers are done particularly well. The thing is, people often talk about how Sambo is tricking these tigers…

Kate: Mmmm hmmm.

Betsy: …the tigers kinda do it to themselves, right? I mean, they’re the ones that fight with each other and grab each other. He doesn’t tell them to grab each other’s tails. He basically just sees that they’ve dropped his clothes and he’s like, “Well I guess I’ll put on my clothes now” and the tigers can’t do anything about it and then they run themselves into butter.

Kate: Right.


Betsy: The other book is “Sam and the Tigers”. Now I read this years ago. I thought it was okay. I read it just now and I’m like, “Aww, shoot! This thing’s great!” I should have had you read this one instead [of the Bing] but the text is completely different. He rewrote it. As he says, “Her language is a model of simplicity I could not imitate.” So instead he made a Southern black storytelling voice for this book. Took the same story, changed the names, and changed them in a way I love, in that everyone is named “Sam” in this book. Mom’s named Sam, Dad’s named Sam, he’s named Sam. I’m like, “Well, that just solves everything!” I kind of love that! And he picks out his own clothes so that’s why his clothes are as flashy and crazy as they are. But it has the same problem that the Bing had where the tiger would say, “Give me your clothes” and it would not immediately show the tiger wearing the clothes. So I gotta give Little Babaji a little extra points on that one.

Kate: Well, the Babaji one is, I don’t want to say cartoony, but those tigers are not as realistic as..

Betsy: … the Pinkney. You’re right. In the other two the tigers are super, hyper-realistic, in both the Bing and..

Kate: Whereas in the Babaji one, they’re striking funny poses…

Betsy: Mmm hmmm

Kate: …so it’s more comical. And maybe that’s the justification for showing, you know, a tiger in a jacket.

Betsy: And Pinkney does show them wearing it but it’s only when they’re already fighting.

Kate: And it’s still, it’s pretty realistic.

Betsy: They’re very realistic tigers. He does a good tiger!

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: He’s very good at the animal form. And I do like it when they’re spinning each other into butter. You can see them sort of melting. Melting tigers. Full credit, by the way, to Julius Lester. He recently passed away so it’s kind of nice that we’re doing one of his books as we’re talking about all of this. I gotta say, though, the “Sam and the Tigers” one had not just a note in the back but had a note in the front as well from the illustrator talking about how he discovered that there were as many as 50 different versions of this book with different illustrations. Then he recommends that if people would like to know more about it, you might want to check out the book, “Sambo Sahib: A History of Bannerman” and her book.


Kate: But the problem isn’t just the illustrations.

Betsy: The problem is not just the illustrations, no.

Kate: I didn’t even really like saying the name of the title of this book.

Betsy: No, no, you don’t do you? And it’s..

Kate: As soon as you took it out of your bag my eyes like went to giant dinner plates and I’m like, “Ohhhhh noooooo…”

Betsy: Even if a person knows nothing of children’s books and picture books…

Kate:… you know the name.

Betsy: You know that name. You know that name is a bad name.

Kate: I mean the mom and dad’s names aren’t as bad as the kid’s name.

Betsy: You know what? Yeah, that’s true. They’re bad too. It’s just, you can’t rescue that text. Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney both say that when they were growing up, this was the only story with a black hero, on the younger end, they had growing up. So, you know, we often talk about how “The Snowy Day” was so groundbreaking and it’s not like there weren’t black characters in books before that. But they were, like, Little Black Sambo for crying out loud. Basically these three books are trying to rescue the story but how they handle the history is completely different. Like, let’s look at the story of Little Babaji. There’s no note in the front and in the back you get this really teeny teeny tiny note on the text which I will read to you here because it is so short:


“A note on the text: Helen Bannerman who lived in India for thirty years, wrote and illustrated the story of ‘Little Black Sambo’ (1899), a story that clearly takes place in India with its tigers and ghee, or melted butter. For this edition of Bannerman’s story, the little boy, his mother, and his father have been given authentic Indian names.”


Betsy: Not so sure about the mom and dad’s names being authentic but maybe they were? Would love to hear somebody comment on that one. But it’s funny to me how little they’re trying to say about the original book whereas the Bing and the Lester are going head-over-heels trying to, to talk about it in as many ways as possible.

Kate: Right, well I think if you read these books to your kids you have to explain…

Betsy: …which brings me to my kids. So I did bring these books home tonight and proceeded to read none of them to my children. I think I could read “Sam and the Tigers” to my kids. It is a lot of text but it’s really a fun read. The language is really nice. Little Babaji? I could read this to my kids, potentially. Again, it’s the original text but the names have been changed, the art has been changed. But the Bing… I can’t read the Bing. I can’t do it.

Kate: Why can’t you read the Bing?

Betsy: Because it’s named Sambo! I can’t do that.

Kate: But can’t you teach them why it’s bad?

Betsy: Yeah..

Kate: You can use it as a vessel to explain…

Betsy: Absolutely, that would be the brave thing to do. And maybe the right thing to do. I mean, that’s the thing. In the past, well-meaning, white, liberal parents would just avoid any mention of racism at all.

Kate: Right. Well, like, “If I Ran the Zoo”.

Betsy: Sure!

Kate: Again, that would be an example

Betsy: A teachable moment!

Kate: Right. So would this be.

Betsy: Which, by the way, I just want to mention, you ran into the “If I Ran the Zoo” thing in Universal?

Kate: I did. Yeah, in Orlando.

Betsy: In Orlando, you sent me a picture.

Kate: I did, just to show you that it was real.

Betsy: I was horrified. I was like, “Aaaaahh!!!” Honestly, the best thing to do would be to take all three of these and talk to the kids about them.

Kate: Hmmm.

Betsy: That would be probably be the best way to do it because kids love comparing and contrasting similar things. But I would be curious to see which one of the three would be their favorite.

Kate: Yeah, I’m curious too.

Betsy: My vote would probably be Little Babaji, just because it’s the shortest one.

Kate: And the most fun illustrations too.

Betsy: It’s the lightest one. Cartoonish is probably the best way to describe it. There’s a wordless sequence of the tigers just attacking one another and one of them’s literally putting up his dukes ala the Cowardly Lion in “Wizard of Oz.” So yeah, there’s a lot of fun being had with this one. But I like the Pinkney one quite a lot too.


Kate: But… we’re only going to rate off of Helen Bannerman and Christopher Bing’s, “The Story of Little Black Sambo”.

Betsy: Little Black Sambo. Yes, that’s the only one that we’re rating. So if we are rating this, what are we rating it? On a scale of one to ten, ten being the most classic and one being the least classic…

Kate: It’s totally a ten.

Betsy: (laughs)

Kate: (sarcastically) I mean, how can it not?
Betsy: How can you give away the game? That’s a twist – didn’t see that one coming!

Kate: (sarcastically) This one’s my favorite!

Betsy: Yeah we’re going one, aren’t we?

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: Yeah, we’re going one. We’re both going one.

Kate: I was thinking maybe 1.5 just so that one, it could be teachable and two, some of these illustrations are really pretty.

Betsy: He’s a really good illustrator and he disappeared after like three or four books. He did three or four and he just whoof! He disappeared. All right, sorry, Little Black Sambo, the original…

Kate: So not a classic!

Betsy: Not actually a classic.

(::sad trombone noise::)

Kate: Wow!
Betsy: I know, which to be perfectly fair, in 1932, that’s what Langston Hughes said. So we’re not exactly the first people to come up with this incredibly brain-bursting idea. But when it comes to the other two, “The Story of Little Babaji” and “Sam and the Tigers”, good books. Good books. I would recommend them. Don’t know if I’d say they were necessarily classics either.

Kate: No.

Betsy: No… uhhh…you know, the story is ok. I think people remember the story more fondly than they need to because…

Kate: I mean, you don’t forget tigers running around a tree and turning into butter.

Betsy: It’s a pretty good image, I gotta say. As are the colors of his outfit.

Kate: And it’s been used in other, like as I said, in a play, you know?…
Betsy: Yeah

Kate: …to talk about racism.

Betsy: No no no, we can’t escape Little Black Sambo.
Kate: But it’s teachable.

Betsy: It is teachable. Yes.

Whoo! That was heavy.


Betsy: Alright, ooo letters! We’ve got letters! (singing) We’ve got lots and lots and lots and lots of letters. One of them, I forgot, what it was, so I didn’t bring it to-day!

Kate: What?

Betsy: So from new listener Sean! Sean who has been bingeing us.

Kate: What up Sean!

Betsy: What up Sean!

Kate: Wait, is that s-e-a-n?

Betsy: S-e-a-n.

Kate: That’s right, it’s the Irish way.

Betsy: Aye! He’s not Irish. He’s American unto his core. So, he’s been listening to us and he said, “So”, he says, “Conclusion: there is almost definitely space for a podcast where it’s a children’s librarian and a child psychologist deconstructing every Berenstain Bear book. It would be very entertaining. I inherited my own Berenstain Bear books a couple years ago. We got through half of them. My four-year-old liked some of them, kinda? We disappeared them. What bears? Never heard of them! And my favorite word I’ve heard applied to them? Creaky.”

Kate: Creaky?

Betsy: Creaky. Those books are a l’il creaky. I liked that term.

Kate: Interesting.

Betsy: I thought that was a fun term to bring up with the ‘ol Berenstain Bear books so, thank you Sean! I like the idea of a children’s librarian and a child psychologist picking apart “Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday”, “Berenstain Bears and…” it wasn’t Stranger Danger but it was something like that… with the strangers…oh. So many bears. “Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV”.

Kate: Ok.

Betsy: “Berenstain Bears and No Girls Allowed”

Kate: Betsy.. stop that..

Betsy: “Berenstain Bears…”

Kate: Betsy!

Betsy: All right, all right. The other letter, not the one that I lost, was from Mom!

Kate: Ahh. Dear ‘ol ma. Getting her steps in.

Betsy: Yeah, Mom who… yes, getting her steps in. Mom listens while she exercises to this podcast because we’re so exciting. So Mom was actually the one who suggested we attempt to look at all these different versions of “Little Black Sambo.”

Kate: Oh.

Betsy: Which I thought was a pretty darn good idea because I certainly wasn’t going to look at the original alone. Lord no. So she said, she had several points. She had one about the song, “I’ve Got Spurs that Jingle Jangle Jingle.”

Kate: (singing) “I’ve Got Spurs that Jingle Jangle Jingle…”

Betsy: (singing) “Still don’t know the song!” She had a point to be made about derbys and bowlers.

Kate: Ahh, going back to “Babar”.

Betsy: Yes.

Kate: Yes.

Betsy: Yes, and these are all about Babar. And here’s the main point about Babar: now remember you said that there was a tombstone on the road when he’s in the roadster.

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: Yes. She says that tombstone is a milestone. Before odometers, they were put along roadsides so you’d know how far you came.

Kate: You can’t measure a life in miles, you know? It’s…

Betsy: What about an elephant life?

Kate: Maybe.

Betsy: Pretty sure. (laughing) Uhh… you’d know how far you’d come and by implication, how far to where you were headed..

Kate: (singing) “Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six-hundred miles”

Betsy: Oh no, no no, I have, I am cancelling that song! That is not allowed!

Kate: (singing) “Five hundred twenty-five thousand…”

Betsy: No, no. I think I just said no! Anyway, she goes on to say “I think the Romans invented them to go with, you know, roads but I wouldn’t bet the rent.” I did in the show notes say that it was a (I didn’t say it was a milestone)… I think I said it was like a road marker or something like that. She makes the point that a dromedary has one hump and a camel has two. I’m not gonna doubt that. And then she says “You talked about it getting dark fast but the darkest throwaway was Betsy’s ‘Well, gotta have piano keys’.” I was very proud of that line.

Kate: I never heard you say that.

Betsy: You didn’t hear it, even when like you were editing it later?

Kate: Nope.

Betsy: It’s a throwaway line but I was feeling very proud about it.

Kate: It’s very nice.

Betsy: Piano’s gotta have keys! (laughing)

Kate: Ok. No, it’s good.

Betsy: It’s so dark!


Betsy: All right.. grown-up things we like!

Kate: So this was a really depressing episode…

Betsy: Yes it was.

Kate: …so I’m going to lighten it up with a little… Queer Eye. That’s right.

Betsy: Really?

Kate: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy…

Betsy: Awww

Kate: …has been revamped for now.

Betsy: Ok.

Kate: And the show is now just called “Queer Eye”. It’s on Netflix and it is brilliant for many reasons.

Betsy: Same cast?

Kate: No. Different cast.

Betsy: Oh.

Kate: And before, when it first came out, it was these five guys who would find a straight guy, give him a makeover…

Betsy: Oh, I watched that show. I knew it well.

Kate: …and then, you know, the straight guy went out into the world a better person, right?

Betsy: Right.

Kate: Back then, it was “Oh my gosh, there’s five gay guys on TV! (gasp)”

Betsy: I know, it was such a big deal.

Kate: Right. Now, because, you know, if you have a gay guy on TV it’s not a big deal, they needed to have some sort of hook, right? Well the hook is an emotional hook. It’s something, you will cry and laugh in every.. single.. episode.

Betsy: Really.

Kate: It’s insane. So they had an episode where there was a very strong Republican on the show as the straight guy. You know, you can see in his garage he has Trump signs and you have these five flamboyantly gay men, very liberal, trying to figure out, “Okay, how do we handle this?” you know? He was also a cop and one of the gay guys is black, so the two of them have a conversation about the black community versus cops. There’s an episode that had me bawling. It was actually a gay man who was closeted and hadn’t come out to his stepmom. And so, they help him be able to come out to her and by… oh my gosh, I’m just [fake crying]. It’s so sweet and touching and they tackle all sorts of things, and it’s not just five gay men redoing a straight man. They tackle all sorts of social issues.

Betsy: Is it still called, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”?

Kate: It’s just “Queer Eye”.

Betsy: Ahhh, okay. Okay, that’s better.

Kate: But it’s the same set up of like, you know, one man does the grooming, one man does culture, one man does food and drinks, you know? So..

Betsy: Awesome.

Kate: I cannot recommend this enough, the way they tackle social issues while having a good time on the show. You laugh and cry, every episode.

Betsy: Okay.

Kate: You’re warned.

Betsy: All right! I am warned.

Kate: It will happen. (laughing)

Betsy: Well, consider me warned then.


Betsy: I thought about doing, for my grown-up thing I like, the very antithesis of “Little Black Sambo”. Which was, of course, the “Black Panther” movie that just came out in theaters. Which I saw and which I LOVED! It was so good!

Kate: Don’t tell me any spoilers.

Betsy: I’m not telling you a darn thing except that it’s good! But I’m not the only one saying that so it’s not a very original grown-up thing I like.

Kate: It is breaking all sorts of records right now.

Betsy: I know, I want it to break more. I want it to break more of the records. More and more and more and more of them.

Kate: I mean, last I heard was that it’s the number one grossing movie for a black director by something like $100 million.

Betsy: Good.

Kate: And it’s gonna keep going up.

Betsy: Yes, it’s going to keep going up because it’s so gorgeous to even look at.

Kate: Yeah I read…

Betsy: …the amount of work that went into it.

Kate: ..I read that the costume designer just took inspiration from all these different African tribes.

Betsy: Yep. Yep. It’s ah-may-zing. So, but that’s not a very original thing for me to like because, we all know that, so I’m just going to give a little hat tip to my favorite reviewer. I review children’s books. Sometimes I do it professionally for places like Kirkus, and then sometimes I do it just on my blog where I…

Kate: …or this podcast.

Betsy: Or this.. well…. I wouldn’t call these reviews, necessarily, but all right, sure. But on my reviews on my blog I get to bloviate for long periods of time, just as much as I want, because it’s my blog and I can make the review as long as I want! Ha ha ha. But I have a deep and abiding respect for people who know how to review succinctly and well. And my favorite reviewer, my top reviewer of all time, is Emily Nussbaum. She reviews television and sometimes movies for the New Yorker. And she is so good and so succinct and even if you don’t care two bits about whatever it is she’s reviewing, she’s just great. In the most recent New Yorker she wrote a piece on television. The piece is called, “Fam and Cheese.” It’s about family dramas (three of them). They’re called, “Here and Now”, “This is Us” and, “The Fosters” and it is the greatest encapsulation. She is so smart and so funny and so good and she makes me want to be a better reviewer. If I had all the time in the world I would just read books on reviewing and try to improve. That ain’t gonna happen. So in lieu of that, I read her.


(end of episode music)


Kate: Cool.

Betsy: So yay.

Kate: So don’t read “Little Black Sambo”…

Betsy: I think they knew that.

Kate: …and go see “Black Panther” instead.

Betsy: That’s very good advice, yes.

Kate: Yeah.

Betsy: That’s something the people can carry home with themselves, yes. Exactly.

Kate: Cool.

Betsy: I’ve been Betsy.

Kate: I’m Kate.

Betsy: Bye!


Betsy: Fuse 8 n’ Kate is a Fuse #8 Production. You can reach us at You can follow Betsy on Twitter at FuseEight. That’s Fuse and eight. E-i-g-h-t. Follow us on iTunes and rate our podcast if you’re so inclined. Our music is by Haddon Givens Kime and our Associate to the Executive Manager of Marketeering and Conservation Efforts is Drew Atienza. Fuse Eight n’ Kate is a creation of Kate Ramsey and Betsy Bird and does not reflect the views of School Library Journal.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. There is actually yet another adaptation of Helen Bannerman’s embarrassing non-classic, which is the only one to make any sense of the pancakes by setting the story in New England during maple syrup season. It’s “Pancakes for Supper” by the inestimable Anne Isaacs, with illustrations by Mark Teague. Completely sidesteps the racial challenges of the original, but does a good job playing it as a sort of backwoods tall tale, which of course is Isaacs specialty. And it has great illustrations of animals trying on the clothes (the tigers are replaced by a porcupine, skunk, cougar, wolf and bear due to the change of venue).

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      THANK YOU!! I saw that one years ago and wanted to mention it but I blanked entirely on both the name and the creators. Isaacs! Teague! I feel you have replaced a small portion of my brain. Much appreciated.