A childhood memory of a Nicodemus book
I got the email from Donna after she’d tried to find a Nicodemus book on her own. She’d been looking for a book about the little boy and his shoes, she wrote, but couldn’t seem to locate it, remembering later that the one she actually wanted was “Nicodemus and His Little Sister.”
At an auction in March, I had picked up five torn and worn copies of Inez Hogan’s series of books about a little black boy named Nicodemus. I was taken aback by the illustrations of both the child and his family members, drawn during a time when the faces of black people were caricatures and not real. I wrote in a blog post that the stories of Nicodemus were appealing but Hogan’s illustrations were not.
“When I was a child, I read the book Nicodemus and his new shoes,” wrote Donna after coming across my blog post. “I would like to buy it. Do you have any idea where I could locate it and the price?”
I suggested that she Google it, because you can find just about anything on the web. She said she had tried to find it but couldn’t. So I Googled and found copies of the book selling at three bookstores: $605 on amazon.com, $49 and $150 on alibris.com and $150 at abebooks.com. The higher-priced books were in good condition.
She bought a copy of the shoes book for $49.50 but realized that it was not the right one. The book she wanted told the story of Nicodemus caring for his little sister, who seemed to keep getting into all kinds of mischief. It was selling on the web for around the same amount as the shoes book.
Little sister was Hogan’s first Nicodemus book, published in 1932, and for the next 22 years, she wrote more than a dozen books with the little black boy as protagonist. Hogan was an artist who worked as a public school arts admininstrator when she could not make a living full time with her art. Then she got into writing and illustrating, and produced more than 60 children’s books from 1927 to 1973, when she died. Her Nicodemus books appeared to have been very popular, and got positive reviews in some of the country’s major newspapers.
I wanted to know a little more about Donna and her experience with the Nicodemus stories. She told me that she was an 80-year-old widow who lives in Iowa, and plays bridge and another card game called pitch. She has three children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. “I didn’t think of the book for my children or grandchildren,” she said.
“I read a lot of fiction (absolutely no mysteries as someone broke into my house in 2006 and attacked me) and housework gets done when I’m going to have company,” she said.
She graciously answered a few questions via email about the Nicodemus book:
Tell me about your remembrances of the book “Nicodemus and His Little Sister.”
I was in 5th grade or under. I have thought of the book through the years as it was a cute little story. The story could just as well have been about a white boy. His mother or grandmother (I don’t remember which) would tell Nicodemus how to do something – like put a puppy on a leash and so the next thing he was faced with he put on a leash, like the pound of butter he was bringing home for his mother. Once I obtain the book, I’ll be able to describe things better. I checked the book out at the neighborhood library which was about a block from where I lived. I read it to myself.
The books I got at auction were tattered, indicating that they were read pretty often. Was yours?
It was probably 75 years ago that I read the book and I don’t remember that it was tattered.
Was there a certain event that renewed your interest in the book?
No certain event. I just remembered it and it came to mind every so often.
Did you have any of the other Nicodemus books?
I ordered the book Nicodemus and his shoes recently and remembered reading it when I was a child.
As you read in my blog, I didn’t particularly like the images of the black children in the book. I thought the story was a nice story, but the images were off-putting for me. How do you feel about those images?
I don’t recall thinking the images were bad.
I believe you said that you wanted to read the book to your great-grandchildren. Why this particular book?
The book was funny and I felt they would enjoy it. I have 8 great-grandchildren ages 10 down to 1 and when they are old enough to understand I would like them all to read it or (I’ll) read it to them.