The book has a controversial history. The original illustrations by Bannerman showed a caricatured Southern Indian or Tamil child. The story may have contributed to the use of the word “sambo” as a racial slur. The book’s success led to many pirated, inexpensive, widely available versions that incorporated popular stereotypes of “black” peoples. For example, in 1908 John R. Neill, best known for his illustration of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, illustrated an edition of Bannerman’s story. In 1932 Langston Hughes criticised Little Black Sambo as a typical “pickaninny” storybook which was hurtful to black children, and gradually the book disappeared from lists of recommended stories for children.
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