The Story of Little Black Sambo was a phenomenally successful children’s book through the first half of the 20th century. Written by Helen Bannerman, a Scot who lived in Madras, India for 30 years, the book was published in London in 1899. The story concerns a little Indian boy who outwits a group of hungry tigers until they melt into delicious butter. At left is the frontispiece from an early American edition of the book. In chapter 54 of Something Wicked
, Jim, Will, and Mr. Halloway “jigged Sambo-style” in a way that recalls the celebrations at the end of that book.
“Sambo” eventually was used by some as a racial slur. The story was criticized on that basis, and altered and adapted many times in an attempt to make it less controversial. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury mentions Little Black Sambo as an example of books that people burn because they find them offensive.