cover image The Story of Little Babaji

The Story of Little Babaji

Helen Bannerman. HarperCollins, $16.99 (72pp) ISBN 978-0-06-205064-9

Like Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney (see Sam and the Tigers, below; and see Children's Books, July 29), Marcellino (Puss in Boots) takes on the task of recasting Helen Bannerman's 1899 classic, Little Black Sambo; also like Lester and Pinkney, he obtains winning results. He sets his version in India, changing the names of the characters from their racist originals to reflect local terms of affection but otherwise retaining Bannerman's simple, straightforward text. Papaji is a mustachioed, turbaned artisan; Mamaji, draped in a sari, sews the finery that draws the tigers' attention; Little Babaji strolls through the jungle--past palm fronds and temples--in an outfit worthy of a rajah. He loses his fine clothing piece by piece to a succession of tigers, but triumphs when the egotistical creatures chase one another around a tree until they all melt into butter. The tigers are by turns haughty, intimidating, and immensely silly in their exaggerated preening and posturing: for example, as they escalate their dispute over which tiger is the grandest, one pounces elaborately upon another, who has put up his paws, boxing-style. A stylish and comparatively spare interpretation--Marcellino several times uses a single image set off by white space, suggesting rather than showing the country's lushness--that still captures the childlike whimsy and charm of this long-lived tale. Ages 2-up. (Sept.)