Childhood books – violent death, racism and child abuse?

By: roughseasinthemed

Jan 04 2014

Tags: , , , ,

Category: black and white, Books, Childhood, Life, Photography

16 Comments

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I had lots of books as a kid. I mean LOTS.

Every single Famous Five (Julian, Dick, George, Anne, and Timmy the dog). I had the Mystery series, the only name I can remember is Fatty. Would that be allowed these days? A child’s book with the clever boy called Fatty? After all, Frederick Algernon Trotville did have the right initials for it.

Even worse, I had Little Black Sambo, by Helen Bannerman. Still do. My only regret is that I never got the missing book in my series. (Little Black Quasha).

The Little Black Sambo books

The Little Black Sambo books

My mother was a primary school teacher before I was born and she would read LBS to the kids. The school was in an immigrant area, at the time Irish Catholic, and pretty rough. By the time I became a junior reporter it was still an immigrant area, but this time Pakistani.

In one of the books, Little Black Mingo, there is an alligator called the great big Mugger. My mother and her colleagues immediately renamed him, knowing fine well the kids would otherwise call him the great big Bugger.

It’s a violent book. Little Black Mingo gets beaten by the woman she lives with, Black Noggy, and has to go to the river to carry heavy vats of water home. Nice case of child abuse here. The mugger takes her away, plonks her by his eggs and says when they are hatched, they will all eat her.

But LBM gets saved by a mongoose who eats all the eggs, and the mugger swallows Black Noggy, who lights a match in his stomach to see around and they are both blown into tiny pieces.

Black Noggy inside the Mugger

Black Noggy inside the Mugger

The mongoose and LBM live happily ever after, with her sitting on the mugger’s head, and he sits on BN’s handkerchief while they drink tea. A fine tale.

This pales into insignificance compared with The Lonely Doll, by Dare Wright. This is a series of adventures about a – lonely – doll who becomes friends with two bears. Teddy bears of course.

While Little Black Sambo books are filled with coloured illustrations, The Lonely Doll books have beautiful black and white photography by Dare Wright.

The Lonely Doll series

The Lonely Doll series

The Lonely Doll flyleaf

The Lonely Doll flyleaf

In the first book, Edith and Little Bear wreak havoc one day when Mr Bear goes out. She even puts on lipstick! There is nothing for it when Mr Bear comes in but to give her a good spanking. Graphic photo of skirt lifted up and Edith’s bottom getting spanked hard. Little Bear gets spanked too.

A good spanking all round

A good spanking all round

Those were the days when children (especially little girls) were seen and not heard. If they transgressed – it was time for spanking. I felt for Edith and Little Bear as I too got spanked. And didn’t like it. But the book represented normal life to me. Bossy father figure in charge, kids get spanked.

Years later, working in the public sector, my colleagues would have had social services in like a shot and Edith and Little Bear in foster care on grounds of child abuse.

Bannerman’s Sambo books have since become controversial. She was born in the 1860s and lived in India for part of her life. Little Black Sambo was printed in 1899. Her books represent the life she knew. Should we censor and rewrite everything with hindsight? or should we educate and learn from our past?

First publication of Little Black Sambo and subsequent reprints

First publication of Little Black Sambo and subsequent reprints

Two very different series of books. Would they be published today?

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16 comments on “Childhood books – violent death, racism and child abuse?”

  1. Looking at children’s books for friends and relatives at Christmas- I take a firm interest in Children’s Moral Improvement- I was delighted by “The Three little wolves and the Big Bad Pig” and later by “Who Flung Dung?”, a Quest story where the monkey goes to find which animal threw poo at the back of his head. It was his brother. The Denouemong is him taking revenge in the obvious way.

    Grown up, I read Margaret Atwood- more horrible people having a ghastly time, and life being difficult.

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    • I think a good story is paramount, preferably with some type of message or education in there but not too heavy. Both the books I used as examples had fantastic pictures, great drawings in one case and beautiful photos in the other. My childhood and my bookshelf would be less rich had I not read those books.

      I read quite a lot of Atwood at one point. I was never sure whether I liked her books or not.

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  2. it is amazing what was deemed entirely appropriate. i grew up with the popular Struwwelpeter ( popular in German-speaking circles, that is) as a kid. It was only spelled with one ‘w’ back then, Struwelpeter but spelling reform has changed the old classic’s title but not its contents. It contains stories of children who misbehave, and the dire consequences of that misbehaviour.
     
    Originally written in 1845, it was originally a book written out of desperation for the author’s son since there was nothing appropriate to be found for children for a Christmas present. It covers topics such as the evils of playing with matches, sucking your thumb, not eating your food, cruelty to animals, racism and more It later was published and distributed widely, and has been translated into other languages including English. Apparently Mark Twain provided a translation of his own, ‘Slovenly Peter’, although I have only ever seen the German version which was part of my childhood reading, a book my parents did not mind at all my bro and me reading.
     
    in any case, the book was probably well ahead of its time addressing what have turned out to be timeless issues. The consequences of the misbehaviour in each case would probably not be deemed politically correct today, but nevertheless the author makes a point on several on several key values that have not changed in the last 150+ years.
     
    i found an English language version online, and if you would like to take a book, you can do so here, although the link will probably land me in your spam box.
     
    my views on banning these books or changing them? i don’t think history should be changed, and when sharing such books with impressionable children, i think there is wisdom in providing value by letting them know that not everything they read is valuable. and that some things are actually destructive and unkind. but reading Struwwelpeter did not seem to leave any ill effects on me. 🙂

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    • as if my first comment of the year wasn’t long enough, lol, i forgot to mention, the illustrations are priceless. wikipedia has an original image of the story of Struwwelpeter, and if you do an online search of ‘images of Struwwelpeter stories’, you will probably find many of them.

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      • I’ve never heard of either Struwelpeter or slovenly peter. Just taken a look, it is quite inventive. I like the way the naughty things they do comes back to bite them, so to speak. I used to do some proof-reading for Gutenberg. Hard work and far too time-consuming I tell you, but it is a great thing to be able to get classics on-line.

        The wiki link is good too, I like the piccies and it gives a neat summary of the stories.

        I think one can go overboard protecting children and presenting a view of the world with rose-tinted glasses. Good and bad things happen to us all, might as well learn it at an early age.

        While I am all for changing language so that it is not discriminatory because language is very powerful, there is a big difference between people in the 21st century being more aware about issues of discrimination (of whatever type, against women, LGBTQ, disabled people, blacks, people with mental illness etc etc etc), and people writing in the 19th century like Bannerman and Hoffman. Or even Wright in the late 50s, with the projection of a passive female character who receives spankings and is always seeking male acceptance.

        I do think banning books or rewriting them is akin to censorship and rewriting history. Very dangerous. As you say, far better to go down the road of explanation. I’ve been meaning to write about childrens’ books for a while, as I think it’s a great topic, especially with some of the pictures. Standby for Tiptoes, the Mischievous Kitten – another of my faves!

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  3. I loved Little Black Sambo when I was a kid — and was quite flabbergasted when I heard it was banned. While I don’t support animal abuse, I do love a good story, and that one was a good story. However, I had NO idea there were other stories, and was quite charmed to hear of them. Suspect getting hold of them to read will be a bit difficult, however.

    Did you ever read the Pookie books? Completely other worldish from the Black Sambo variety, these stories are sweet ones about a flying rabbit and his person.

    Oh, and just a note: I have always hated the Brothers Grimm stories. Those I have no patience with.

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    • Hi Diana. I too loved – and still do – my Sambo books. I still can’t work out why my mother never bought me the Quasha one. Perhaps I will have to look for that to complete the series. The trouble is I would need an early 60s version and not one of the later rewritten ones. I agree they are good stories. I always thought they were set in Africa because at that age I thought all black people came from Africa, and the characters in the Sambo books are very dark and didn’t resemble the Indians and Pakistanis who had immigrated into our part of the UK. I think you could argue there were some sensible educational messages in there. Certainly, in Little Black Mingo, you learn it’s a good idea to keep away from alligators, that mongooses eat their eggs, and encouragingly that people (and muggers) who do bad things come to a bad end. I don’t think it gave me any racist views, rather they came from my parents directly. But that’s not for this post.

      I think I may have vaguely heard of Pookie but I’ve never read them. Sounds like my sort of book though 🙂 I enjoyed rereading both LBM and The Lonely Doll, which I did before I wrote the post.

      I agree about Grimm, which I also have. They were very dark. Spooky.

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  4. I’m truly amazed you’ve still got your books from your childhood…how wonderful 🙂
    I can’t remember any story books from my childhood, though I did have a few, they were probably along the lines of the Famous Five.
    Most books I had were encyclopaedia type ones, no idea what happened to them though 😦
    I used to have a gollywog, I also collected all the Robertson’s golliwogs brooches too.
    How life has changed eh?
    Nice colour choice from DT.

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    • Vicky, so am I because my mother had regular purges to get rid of clutter/rubbish/whatever and it didn’t matter whose it was 😦

      My hardback books mostly went to my old junior school library, with my alleged agreement. I wasn’t reading them any more so I suppose I can’t complain. No idea what happened to my horse books, Jill had two ponies and all that – you must have read those, Chalet school stories and loads of others. You must remember the Hucklebones book over on roughseas: http://wp.me/p1XwsS-Yd

      I’ve got some more kiddy books that I will post about as I find them totally fascinating. Such good books. Mostly animals, it goes without saying 😀 Or adventure stories.

      I was most annoyed when my mum died. There were some things that weren’t there and SHOULD have been, and that included my Pears Junior Cyclopedia which I particularly loved. It included morse code, deaf and dumb sign language and many other useful titbits. No idea what she did with it. Probably gave it to the shithead kid down the street. And it was MINE 😦

      Do you remember my golly pic earlier on here? http://wp.me/s2c8OG-golly I think it was my last Blogger post and the first of the transition. I collected all the gollies from the jam, but I’m not sure if I ever got a brooch.

      I loved my golly, still do. Is there anything wrong with that I wonder? I loved my black doll too. Bella. Don’t know when she got thrown out either 😦

      Note to parents: do not throw away your childrens’ past.

      DT is a bit drab, but it came up with the same colour or a couple of pix. Obviously not to be swayed. Check out the golly link though, great vibrant colour 🙂 – and – the original black version: http://everypicturetellsone.blogspot.com/2011/11/golly.html#comment-form

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  5. Wonder why those books didn’t reach South Africa or maybe they did. I just never saw them.
    I believe we should educate and learn from the past. Love that you still kept those lovely books. 😀

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    • When I was writing that post I learned that they were actually based in India (although I thought the dark skinned Little Black Sambo was African). I think Bannerman spent some of her childhood in India as I vaguely recall.

      The Edith books are totally different, I think my godmother bought them for me.

      Either way, I don’t agree with banning books like that. They are creative and very visually impressive in totally different ways. Totally agree with you about educating and learning. Far more productive, this book is good because, …. but this is not good …… because … (pretty much like a book review). Also, everything needs to be viewed in context. Bannerman born late 19th century, and Dare Wright’s rather odd childhood and adulthood too.

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      • Quite a pity. I think they would have been very educational and just like you I also don’t believe in banning books like that but as you know, not everyone thinks like us. Some would also use it in their own way to make profit from it, if you know what I mean. To suit themselves. Just like they use the bible. Those evil kind of folks. 😉

        Absolutely and I agree with viewing it in context especially if you look at the differences. Still something to learn from though.

        Thanks for the lovely reply and don’t worry, not going to keep you busy today. hahahahaha. Hope had a good night’s rest. 😀

        Have a great day and big hugs and kisses to Pippa and Snowy! 😀

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        • Thanks sonel, the boys are sleeping. Although I’ve done two dog walks and had to play fighties with the little one because he wanted his mad half hour.

          I slept right through. Heck I needed it after you and Victoria kept me awake!

          I do like writing about books, of all types, whether, adult, teenage or children’s. There is just so much to learn and so much to discuss. They reflect so many aspects of our society and our lives.

          I’m doing a video script today, before I start on the editing, so that will be fun.

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          • Awwww, how sweet! LOL! Sounds like the little ‘rat’ as Pippa calls him, likes to keep you busy. LOL!

            Glad to hear that and you can thank me and Victoria for that. We had our ‘mad’ time with you as well. hehehehehe

            And I love reading about your reviews. You just do it so damn well! I agree and it’s great to see it from different aspects and views.

            That sounds like fun indeed. Hope you’re going to share. 😀

            Enjoy! 🙂

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            • My pullover looks like a punk rocker’s it has so many holes in it. They correspond with the bruises on my arms. He’s not a nasty dog, but he is a puppy, a hunting dog, and has loads of energy. So its, eat, pee, play, sleep, etc.

              Yes, it was fun. Let’s hope we have another mad few hours at some point.

              Thanks for your comment about the reviews. I don’t think they need to be overly clever, eg ‘the author’s use of the subjunctive adds a clever nuance to his/her interesting style’ blah blah doesn’t tell anyone anything. A review needs to be short, interesting, and honest. Is this book good or bad? If there is interesting background info, then add that too. Just not too much to send people to sleep.

              The vid script is for the book I’m editing, so there will be a link when the author republishes it. 🙂

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              • LOL! That sounds very familiar. Awww shame! Yes, that’s a puppy for sure and it’s in their nature and they don’t realise how strong those jaws are. 😀

                Glad to hear you enjoyed it too. Let’s hope. 😀

                You’re very welcome and I totally agree and that is why I love your reviews. Short and to the point and it tells you everything you need to know, and just enough to make you so curious that you will go out and buy the book to find out more.

                Cool! Can’t wait! 😀

                Enjoy! 😀

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