The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939



The Tar Baby

[Adapted to the Interest and Vocabulary of Primary Children].

This is a story to be read by children, not to them. Its chief practical purpose is to assist in the teaching of children to read. It has been prepared with a view to furnishing a content of such nature and character as to interest them in doing so, and framed in such language that will enable the youngest readers to master it without much difficulty. This story and about a dozen others taken from Joel Chandler Harris' collection have been worked over by Miss Blair and her second grade class for several months, with a view of determining the elements of essential interest to children, and of securing the story in the language which children use and therefore best understand.

Her method of production has been as follows: First, the story has been related to the class in form which her experience and sympathy dictated. Some days later, after the story, its form of presentation and language has somewhat "settled" in the children's minds, she permitted reproductions, in oral and pictorial form. Miss Blair has then made these reproductions the material for most
careful study as to elements of plot, salient points of interest, and especially the words and forms of expression used by the children. By this process the story was reconstructed. This form was then typewritten and several copies mimeographed, which were used as reading material in Miss Blair's class and in other primary classes. Notes were made upon the difficult words or ideas as shown by the class work, and these served as a basis for a later revision.

The pictures as given in this story have been prepared upon the same principle. The children's crude drawings have been preserved and studied. Those which appeared typical have been submitted to the artist, Mr. Pierre Boeringer, who has drawn these herewith given. In them he has endeavored to catch and preserve the child's idea, retouching merely the form.

There is therefore in this story, children's thought, and children's language expression. In thought it belongs to the myth literature of the African race, tracing its development through the Southern cotton fields. Its ideas and emotions were therefore furnished in the childhood of a race. The form of expression of these emotions and ideas as the method of reconstruction shows, has been furnished by the little people of our modern times.

Many teachers are now familiar with the "Golden Fleece," by Miss Louise Smythe, and the "Story of Washington," by Miss Jessie Smith, which aim to provide a similar class of reading matter, and which have been constructed on the same principle. Miss Blair's study differs in kind of emotion to wihch appeal is made. The former appeal to the children's emotion of admiration for the heroic. This story deals with the heroic in more primitive form and introduces an element which the Greek or Norse myth wholly lacks, the emotion of humor—children's humor. Here is a story which has proven humorous to generations of the human race in their primitive childhood period. Our modern children have placed it in a setting of their language and expression. Many of us feared, when Miss Blair first began the work of robbing the Uncle Remus stories of their delicious dialect in order to present it to children in form which they might read for themselves, that in stripping the content of its form, she was taking away all that made it interesting. The result proved the contrary. There is a power and a living force in the content of the stories regardless of the form. Of all the story material with which the little folk of Santa Rosa have been provided, there is nothing so popular with the lowest grades as the "Brer Rabbit Stories."

— Frederic L. Burke, Principal of the Sauta​ Rosa Public Schools.

Brer Fox thought he would play a trick on Brer Rabbit.

He made a big doll out of wood. He covered it with tar. He put it in the road. Then he hid behind a tree and waited for Brer Rabbit to come along.

By and by Brer Rabbit came skipping down the road. He was as happy as he could be.

When he saw the tar baby, he stopped.

He sat up on his hind legs.

He looked and looked at it.


He said, "How do you do?"

Tar Baby said nothing.

So Brer Rabbit said again, "How do you do? This is a nice morning, isn't it?"

Tar Baby said nothing.


Brer Rabbit said, "Are you deaf? I will talk a little louder."

Tar Baby said nothing.

Brer Rabbit said, "I'll teach you how to speak to nice people. If you do not take off your hat and speak to me, I'll hit you."

Tar Baby said nothing.


Then Brer Rabbit hit the Tar Baby as hard as he could.

His paw stuck in the tar.

Brer Rabbit said, "Let me go."

Tar Baby said nothing.


Brer Rabbit then said, "If you do not let me go, I'll hit you with my other paw."

Tar Baby said nothing.

He hit Tar Baby with the other paw.

It stuck fast.

Brer Rabbit said, "You had better let me go or I'll kick you."

Tar Baby said nothing.

Brer Rabbit kicked the Tar Baby.

His foot stuck fast.

Brer Rabbit said, "If you do not let me go, I'll kick you with my other foot.

Tar Baby said nothing.


Brer Rabbit kicked him with the other foot.

His other foot stuck fast.

Brer Rabbit was now very angry.

He said, "If you do not let me go, I'll bump you with my head."

Tar Baby said nothing.

Brer Rabbit bumped the Tar Baby with his head.

His head stuck fast.

Brer Rabbit was now more angry than ever. He said, "Let me go! Let me go, I say! Do you hear me? Let me go! If you do not let me go, I'll—I'll—"

Just then Brer Fox came out from behind the tree.

Brer Fox rolled over and over in the road and laughed.

Brer Fox said, "Hello, Brer Rabbit, you are quite stuck up this morning."


Brer Fox rolled over and over and laughed.

"You have played many tricks on me,"said Brer Fox, "and now you can stay stuck up until I make a fire and cook you.

Brer Rabbit said, "Cook me if you want, but do not throw me into that briar patch."

Brer Fox said, "It is too much trouble to make a fire. I have no match. I'll hang you."

Brer Rabbit said, "Hang me if you want; but do not throw me into that briar patch."

Brer Fox said, "No, I have no string. I guess I'll drown you."

"Drown me as deep as you please,"said Brer Rabbit, "but do not throw me into that briar patch."

[illustration - ] "I WAS BORN IN THAT BRIAR PATCH."

Brer Fox said, "There is no water near, so I guess I'll skin you."

"Skin me if you want,said Brer Rabbit, "pull out my ears by the roots, but do not throw me into that brier patch."

So Brer Fox thought that the worst thing he could do with Brer Rabbit would be to throw him into the brier patch.

Brer Fox took Brer Rabbit by the legs and threw him into the brier patch.

After awhile Brer Fox heard a noise upon the hill. He looked, and he saw Brer Rabbit over there picking the tar out of his hair.

Brer Rabbit said, "Thank you, Brer Fox. You put me just where I wanted to be. I was born in that brier patch. It is my home."