Little Black Sambo

Back in print and on sale in Tokyo.

A popular, long-selling children’s picture book will again go on sale in early April in Japan after its printing was halted in 1988 due to protests that it fanned racism against black people, the book’s new publisher said Thursday.

The book is “The Story of Little Black Sambo,” written by British author Helen Bannerman during a trip to India. It was released in Britain in the late 19th century.

In Japan, it was first issued in 1953 by Tokyo-based Iwanami Shoten Publishers under the Japanese title “Chibikuro Sambo” (Little Black Sambo).

Tokyo-based publisher Zuiunsha said it has received many orders from bookstores for the newly revived book.

Iwanami Shoten’s version of “Chibikuro Sambo” sold more than 1 million copies. The book carried illustrations by Frank Dobias and the text was translated by Natsuya Mitsuyoshi.

Civic groups protested that the word “sambo” had become a derogatory term in the United States for black people, prompting Iwanami Shoten to halt printing of the book. More than 20 other companies that released their own translated editions of the book followed suit.

Zuiunsha President Tomio Inoue has said he believes it is worthwhile to pass on the book to the next generation, adding, “I think it’s necessary to think deeply about what constitutes discrimination. In India, ‘sambo’ generally refers to a child’s name.”

The story tells the tale of a boy named Little Black Sambo who was taking a walk when he met a tiger which took away his red coat, blue trousers and purple shoes, but the boy later used his wit to retrieve the clothes.

Does this mean that we’ll finally see the comeback of one of America’s finest eating establishments?



Back in its heyday Sambo’s restaurant chain had more than 1,200 shops coast to coast. It was a place where you could get a dime cup of coffee and a stack of hotcakes with a smile. The name Sambo’s was the derived from the names of its founders Sam Battistone and Newell “Bo” Bohnett.

Their logo of a little black boy was borrowed from a children’s book written by Helen Bannerman at the end of the 19th century called “Little Black Sambo.” It was the tale of a young Indian boy who loses his clothing to some browbeating tigers. They wind up chasing each other around until they melt into hotcakes and butter, which Sambo winds up eating.

The illustrations in the book depicting Sambo made him look African and the term Sambo was a racist epithet as well. In 1957 when Sambo’s Restaurant first opened in Santa Barbara, California this was not a major concern to anyone except African-Americans and a few “communist agitators.”

It was a seemingly perfect theme for a restaurant. The chain eventually collapsed and the only shop to survive was the original one in Santa Barbara, which is now considered a landmark.

OK, maybe they won’t be opening up again anytime soon. But, for those who remember and wish to reminisce – here you go.




  1. What difference does it make? Anyone can just read it here:

  2. If you want to have it make a difference, you can go here

  3. I love this book

  4. For some reason this morning when I was trying to wake for work, I remembered pools of butter and a little black boy. Through some seaching and remebering, I found Little Black Sambo and the tiger and the umbrella and his beautiful clothes. We had a Sambo’s in Albuquerque I think in the 60’s. With all its little black boys and such it would never go now. Would love to hear others memories.

Speak Your Mind