The Story of Little Babaji - Thao Lam
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The Story of Little Babaji

The Story of Little Babaji

The Story of Little Babaji

Little India is one of Toronto’s most prominent Indian and South Asian neighborhoods. This week they are holding their 40th annual Festival of India (also known as Ratha-Yatra) and it is promised to be an unforgettable experience. Keep reading…

The Story of Little Babaji has a long history of controversy; the story was originally titled The Story of Little Black Sambo (first published in 1899). It contained racial slurs and stereotype caricatures of African people, even though the story clearly took place in India. As a gift for her two little girls, Helen Bannerman wrote and illustrated the story of a boy who encountered four hungry tigers and surrendered his new clothes, shoes, and umbrella for his life. The tigers were very vain and got into a dispute about who looked the grandest. The dispute flared into an outright chase around the tree, round and round the tigers went until they are reduced into a pool of melted butter.

In the revise version of this story illustrated by Fred Marcellino, he wanted to keep the essence of the story but remove all the racial controversy. He wanted to bring it back to its roots in India. Fred gave all the characters authentic Indian names; even the title got a face-lift. The landscapes and characters were reset reflect India. His watercolour illustrations are quiet simple but effective, just enough to tell the story without complicating things. Fred’s depiction of a character’s body language goes a long way in setting the mood of the situation. Even the tigers were drawn with bold gestures that gave them life and personalities.

Fred Marcellino’s revised version of this classic tale gives it new life to a generation that is sensitive to the culture and customs of others.

The Story of Little Babaji, a children’s book review by Thao Lam

Author Helen Bannerman

(February 25th, 1862 to October 13th, 1946)

Born in Edinburgh, Helen Bannerman was one of seven children in her family. During her time, women were not allowed to attend university in Britain so Helen study from home and sent in her exams to the University of St. Andrews where she obtained her qualifications of Lady Literate in Arts. Helen lived much of her life in India, where her husband was an officer in the Indian Medical Service.


Illustrator Fred Marcellino

(October 25th, 1939 to July 12th, 2001)

Born in Brooklyn, Fred Marcellino started out as an abstract expressionist painter, studying in Venice before returning to New York to begin his career. His devotion to books eventually led him into publishing, designing book jackets. Creating book jackets was time consuming for Fred. Instead of using the tip sheet summarizing the plot, setting, and characters provided by the publishers, Fred insisted on reading the entire manuscript before beginning to design a book jacket.

In the height of his success in the field of book jacket design, Fred switched his attention to children’s books., creating detailed colour pencil illustrations that were rare in industry. Once again Fred found his method of creating books was becoming time consuming. Fred asked his good friend and well-known illustrator Jim McMullan to give him a lesson in watercolour, a switch that allowed him more flexibility and time.

Time, which was becoming ever short when Fred was diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer. Despite under going debilitating chemotherapy treatments, Fred displayed enormous determination and continued working. During his treatment he finished illustrating and writing three books before passing away at the age of 61.

For more information on Fred Marcellino, check out


Publisher HarperCollins; 1 edition (August 30, 1996)

ISBN-10 0062050648

ISBN-13 978-0062050649