The story of Little Black Sambo was a hit. Dressed in his beautiful blue pants, red coat, and purple shoes with crimson soles, my little girl Mia was riveted by this young black fella from India and his adventures.
Actually, judging by the way she gasped and gripped my arm she was probably more taken with the tigers who were going to eat Sambo up than his escapades.
She certainly wasn't aware of the book's controversial past. Funny thing is, there are no racial slurs in the book which was first published in 1899. It's just that Sambo became a derogatory term in the early to mid 1900s and for that the book was doomed. Which is a shame because it's a delightful kids' yarn.
For those of you who have forgotten, four tigers try to eat Sambo, who, in exchange for his life, gives them his clothes to wear. The tigers end up chasing each other around a tree and turn into butter (that's a particularly trippy scene actually), Sambo gets his clothes back, and his mum, Black Mumbo, makes pancakes with the butter. Yum. Mia loved it.
Lately she's been interested more than ever in books - and it's all because of old-school books like Sambo. Recently we got a couple of boxes of them from my wife's mum who kept all their books from when they were kids. And they are treasures, even if some of them are slightly tatty and the sellotape has gone brown and is peeling off.
Mia's more modern books - like Maisy, Spot, and Angelina Ballerina - have been cast aside in favour of the tongue twisting cleverness of Dr Seuss, the simple yet occasionally brutal Dick Bruna books, and Little Black Sambo.
You can see why these timeless classics capture the imagination. Maisy and the like are lovely and sweet - and there's nothing wrong with that - but mostly the old books say it like it is, rather than coming across sanitised and safe.
This from Dick Bruna's version of Red Riding Hood: "The hunter drew his knife and killed the wicked wolf. When the wolf was cut open, Grandmother stepped out unhurt." Brilliant.
Although, you've got to watch that Little Miss Bossy book - one of the Mr Men off shoots - because she's a pest who sets a bad example. "Shut up," are her two favourite words.
And then there's the deliciously mad world of Dr Seuss and the Berenstain Bears, who are on another planet entirely. But what ripping good yarns they are. And they sure kick start kids' imaginations to run wild.