Friday, February 25, 2011

25th February Helen Bannerman (1862 - 1946)

Helen Bannerman was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her father was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. She married a doctor in 1899 and moved to India where she wrote The Story of Little Black Sambo, based on a series of letters to her children. The book was initially very successful, but over a period of time became infamous as a study in racism. Many of the book's supporters purport that the story merely reflected the social conventions of the time in which it was written and that children should be introduced to it within its context. Certainly the size of the book, like Beatrix Potter's appeals to children, but new additions with new illustrations have not maintained this size. Newer editions of the story have maintained the adventure story, but changed the protagonist's name and illustrations. Christopher Bing's version keeps the title, but illustrates an African boy living in India where tigers want to eat him up. Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney have changed the names and setting to create Sam and the Tigers and Valeria Petrone's version The Boy and the Tigers which was done as a Little Golden Book has a boy named Rajani and a much kinder retelling. So despite all the controversy surrounding Bannerman's book, because of its racially insensitive choice of names and style of illustration, its 'story bones' have certainly survived for a long time! See how the green umbrella has survived in all the versions!

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