All About Little Black Sambo is about a boy (a little black boy, as we are helpfully informed) who lives in the jungle with his parents, Black Mumbo and Black Jumbo. Sambo’s parents give him a beautiful Red Coat, beautiful Blue Trousers, a beautiful Green Umbrella, and a lovely Pair of Purple Shoes with Crimson Soles and Crimson Linings. The book says that Sambo was “grand” in his Fine Clothes, but that is just an old-timey way of saying that it was the pimpest shit ever. I don’t think I need to tell you that if you’re rocking purple shoes, a red blazer with no shirt, and a superfluous umbrella, you are a veritable one-man Pussy Posse.
As Sambo strolls through the jungle, he is accosted by a series of tigers, who threaten to eat him up until he bribes them one by one with his finery. Personally, I feel that the tiger who got the shoes got kind of screwed. Having four feet but only two shoes, he opts to wear them on his ears, which in his estimation makes him “the grandest Tiger in the Jungle,” but by any objective measure actually means he’s fucking retarded.
After a good cry over his lost gear, Sambo hides behind a palm tree to see the tigers arguing over which one of them is the grandest, leading to an all-out tiger kumite. At this point the action is unclear, so I will reprint the full text:
“And they came, rolling and tumbling right to the foot of the very tree where Little Black Sambo was hiding, but he jumped quickly in behind the umbrella. And the Tigers all caught hold of each others’ tails, as they wrangled and scrambled, and so they found themselves in a ring round the tree. Then when the Tigers looked very wee and very far away, Little Black Sambo jumped up, and called out…”
Despite multiple re-readings, I have not yet pieced together how exactly the tigers came to appear wee. Perhaps it is one of the unfathomable mysteries of God, like the dinosaur bones He put in the ground to test our faith in Creationism. At any rate, the tigers begin to run around the tree in an attempt to eat each other, accelerating into a Looney Tunes-style tornado. Then, via a mysterious process that in my opinion is scientifically suspect, the tigers disintegrate into a big pool of melted butter (which, the text bizarrely notes, is known as “ghi” in India).
On his way home from work, Black Jumbo sees the butter and is understandably psyched about this awesome ground-score. He takes it home to Black Mumbo, who, apparently untroubled by the idea of cooking with random found butter, is delighted because she can use it to fry up pancakes. The book then notes that “Black Mumbo ate Twenty-seven pancakes, and Black Jumbo ate Fifty-five, but Little Black Sambo ate a Hundred and Sixty-nine, because he was so hungry.” Leaving aside the fact that the family is clearly rife with tapeworms, I was puzzled by the implication that Black Mumbo, despite having enough “flour and eggs and milk and sugar and butter” on hand to make 251 pancakes, had been heretofore stymied by lack of a frying medium. Is magical tiger butter so rare?
This book is somewhat confusing. Modern readers may find it bizarre, perhaps even offensive. But read with an open mind, it can teach us many important lessons:
- Books in 1917 were super racist.
- Tigers appreciate fashionable clothing and are made of butter.
- “Black Jumbo” is pretty much the fucking raddest name ever.
- Outsmarting tigers makes you build up one hell of an appetite.
- In India, melted butter is called “ghi.”
Overall, I would give this book a B minus.