Answer Man

Do you remember Snip, Snap and Sner?

An illustration from “Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Red Shoes.”
An illustration from “Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Red Shoes.”

Q: I was wondering if you remember a children’s book that had three characters in it referred to as Snip, Snap and Sner. The names are from my childhood, but I can’t remember the book that the characters are from. Also, there was an African book about a little boy caught in a tree surrounded by tigers which went around and around until they became butter. Are you familiar with either of these books?

Virginia Kenton, of East St. Louis

A: Not only can I hopefully bring back happy childhood memories with Snipp, Snapp and Snurr, but I also can introduce you to Flicka, Ricka and Dicka if you haven’t already met. Created by Mal Lindman, they’re both fictional sets of triplets who have been captivating young readers for nearly a century.

A resident of Stockholm, Sweden, Lindman attended the Royal Academy of Arts in Stockholm and even studied art in Paris. But she is best remembered for the two dozen or so books she turned out involving those two threesomes.

Snipp, Snapp and Snurr were Swedish boys with blond hair who went on typical lighthearted childhood misadventures. I’m not sure which ones you read, but the titles always started with Snipp, Snapp and Snurr followed by the subject of that particular book: “and the Red Shoes,” “and the Reindeer,” “and the Magic Horse,” etc.

Perhaps wanting to cash in on the other half of her audience, Lindman gave equal time to the fun adventures of the boys’ female counterparts. Thus began a series of books involving Flicka, Dicka and Ricka and the three kittens, the strawberries, the big red hen and the girl next door, to name a few.

The books became popular in Sweden in the 1920s before making their way across the Atlantic in English a decade later. By 1936, they were being reviewed by the New York Times, which said they were “popular with the little children.” The series continued until the 1960s and are still easily found on amazon.com and elsewhere.

“There are no sassy one-liners, no melodramatically misinterpreted text messages and no magical hoo-ha,” childrens author Jack Silbert wrote in a modern-day review of “Flicka, Ricka and Dicka and The New Skates.” “The book is just a gentle adventure with unforced lessons on looking out for others and showing appreciation.”

Your second mystery book evoked my own childhood memories. Along with Goldilocks and Hopalong Cassidy, I still have my View-Master reel of “Little Black Sambo” I inherited from my brother.

Published in 1899 by Helen Bannerman, Little Black Sambo originally was a South Indian boy who lived with his parents, Black Jumbo and Black Mumbo. While out walking one day, Sambo was attacked by four tigers, which demanded his new clothes, shoes and umbrella in return for not eating him.

But once given the boy’s possessions, the tigers started to fight over which one now looked best in them. They wound up chasing each other around a tree so fast that they melted into a pool of butter, which Sambo gratefully scooped up and took home to use on his mother’s pancakes.

As you obviously remember, it was a popular story for a half-century but fell into disfavor as “sambo” became a racial slur and the drawings in early editions were of exaggerated black stereotypes. As early as 1932, famed black author Langston Hughes criticized the book as hurtful to black children, after which the story slowly began to disappear from recommended reading lists for children.

You also may remember in the 1960s when Sam Battistone and Newell “Bo” Bohnett started the Sambo’s restaurant chain and used the book’s characters for promotional purposes and decorations. But criticized for being racially insensitive, the chain of more than 1,100 eateries all but disappeared in the 1980s.

However, arguing that the plot of the story itself contains no racial overtones, others have worked to resurrect it for decades. In 1996, for example, noted illustrator Fred Marcellino published “The Story of Little Babaji” while in 2004 even the Little Golden Book series came out with “The Boy and the Tigers” that focused on Little Rajani. All can be found on amazon.com.

Q: Someone is trying to tell me that Adolf Hitler had a relative who fought for the allies. Is that true or one of those urban legends?

Thomas Leach, of O’Fallon

A: As strange as it may seem, William Patrick Hitler did indeed enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1944 — but not before trying to take advantage of his family name in Nazi Germany itself.

He was born in 1911 in Liverpool, England, to Adolf’s brother Alois Jr., making him Adolf’s nephew. After watching his uncle rise to power, “Willy” left in 1933 for Germany, where his uncle set him up with a bank job before he moved on to work in an Opel plant and as a car salesman.

When these jobs failed to satisfy him, he reportedly threatened to sell embarrassing family secrets to the press if he were not given a better position. But when Uncle Adolf promised him a high-ranking job in exchange for his relinquishing his British citizenship, Willy smelled a rat and eventually left Germany in 1939. He even wrote an article for Look magazine entitled “Why I Hate My Uncle,” which would grab top billing on the cover.

While on a trip to the United States with his mother, he became stranded when World War II broke out. In 1944, he finally was cleared to join the Navy as a pharmacist’s mate (hospital corpsman) and earned a Purple Heart. After the war, he changed his last name to Stuart-Houston and opened Brookhaven Laboratories, which analyzed blood samples for hospitals. A father of four, he died in 1987 at age 76.

None of his sons had children although one, Alexander, once stressed that, contrary to speculation, he and his brothers had made no pact to end the Hitler bloodline.

Today’s trivia

For what daredevil feats do we remember Isaac Van Amburgh in the 1830s?

Answer to Saturday’s trivia: The idea may seem counterintuitive: When the earth is at its most distant point from the sun, we in St. Louis are sweltering in our hottest temperatures of the year. But it’s true for one simple reason: Our distance from that fireball in the sky has little effect on our seasons. Instead, it’s because the earth’s rotational axis is tilted about 23.5 degrees with respect to our orbital plane that makes all the difference. During the summer, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, so we’re getting hit with more of the sun’s energy. In the winter, we’re tilted away from the sun, so it’s Australia, Africa and South America feeling the heat.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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