cover image Sam and the Tigers: A New Telling of Little Black Sambo

Sam and the Tigers: A New Telling of Little Black Sambo

Julius Lester. Dial Books, $18.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2028-2

Troubled by the racist trappings--the characters' names and the stereotypical illustrations--of The Story of Little Black Sambo, but drawn nonetheless to its hero and its humor, Lester and Pinkney set out to reinvent the tale. Their interpretation is more freewheeling than Fred Marcellino's (see The Story of Little Babaji, above), and they departs frequently and ingeniously from Bannerman's version. The new book's protagonist is simply Sam; the setting is the land of Sam-sam-sa-mara, where everyone is named Sam--a touch that not only defuses any echoes of the original hero's derogatory name, but allows for many wonderfully absurd exchanges (""Sam looked at Sam. Sam shrugged. Sam shrugged back....""). Using the lively Southern black voice of his Uncle Remus retellings, Lester creates a savvy, comically streetwise hero who quickly learns to anticipate the tigers' muggings ("" `You know the routine,' said the Tiger. Sam nodded and took off his pants. `Take 'em.' "") while losing none of his own sass. Pinkney's lavish illustrations--a feast of figures, color, expressions and detail--pick up and run with the expansive mood of the text. A hip and hilarious retelling that marries the essence of the original with an innovative vision of its own. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)