The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults


After more than a decade in the United States, the Caribbean writer C. L. R. James ran afoul of McCarthyism in 1953 and was deported. In exile in London, he began to write stories in the form of letters to his four-year-old son “Nobbie,” who remained in the States. Through a distinctive, imaginary, and sometimes absurd cast of characters—Good Boongko, Bad boo-boo-loo, Moby Dick, and Nicholas the worker, among others—these stories explore questions of friendship, conflict, community, ethics, and power in humorous...
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Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults

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After more than a decade in the United States, the Caribbean writer C. L. R. James ran afoul of McCarthyism in 1953 and was deported. In exile in London, he began to write stories in the form of letters to his four-year-old son “Nobbie,” who remained in the States. Through a distinctive, imaginary, and sometimes absurd cast of characters—Good Boongko, Bad boo-boo-loo, Moby Dick, and Nicholas the worker, among others—these stories explore questions of friendship, conflict, community, ethics, and power in humorous and often ingenious ways; they also stand as a moving testament to a father’s struggle to be a vivid presence in the life of his son despite separation and distance.

Attesting to James’s remarkable gifts as a writer and his unusual talent for engaging wide and diverse audiences, these witty and poignant stories, published here for the first time, are not just for James aficionados. Each story is a delight in its own way, making the book irresistible for children and adults alike.

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Editorial Reviews

The Caribbean Review of Books

“James’s prose is vigorous and clear, and it’s fascinating to see him—who excelled at so many literary forms—trying his hand in an unexpected medium.”—The Caribbean Review of Books

— Nicholas Laughlin

Choice - P. J. Kurtz

“This collection offers a powerful glimpse into an interesting man and a historical time period and also a timeless lesson about the importance of doing what is right.”—P. J. Kurtz, Choice
The Caribbean Review of Books - Nicholas Laughlin

“James’s prose is vigorous and clear, and it’s fascinating to see him—who excelled at so many literary forms—trying his hand in an unexpected medium.”—The Caribbean Review of Books

“This collection offers a powerful glimpse into an interesting man and a historical time period and also a timeless lesson about the importance of doing what is right.”—P. J. Kurtz, Choice

— P. J. Kurtz

Wisconsin Bookwatch/Midwest Book Review

"As an eccentric and engaging collection of homespun stories suitable for children and adults alike, The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults is to be given high praise and is very strongly recommended for both academic and community library collections.”—Wisconsin Bookwatch/Midwest Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803246133
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2013
  • Pages: 120
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 5.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

C. L. R. James (1901-89) is the author of Beyond a Boundary, The Black Jacobins, American Civilization, and Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways, among other works. Edward Said called him a "centrally important twentieth-century figure," while Caryl Phillips said, "There is little doubt that James will come to be regarded as the outstanding Caribbean mind of the twentieth century."

Constance Webb (1918-2005) spent many years working in the publishing industry as an editor and writer. Her correspondence with her husband, C. L. R. James, is the subject of the book Special Delivery. Anna Grimshaw, associate professor of anthropology at Emory University, was C. L. R. James's research assistant at the end of his life and edited Special Delivery and The C. L. R. James Reader.

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Read an Excerpt

The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults

By C. L. R. James

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2006

University of Nebraska Press

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8032-2608-X

Chapter One

Serial not Cereal

Before sailing to England Nello noticed that Nobbie did not have a
full-length coat. He had a ski jacket and other warm tops, but they did
not satisfy his father. I think, too, that he wanted to leave his son something
special so he would think of his daddy every time he wore the
coat. So we went shopping, and Nello was insistent that the lining be a
light color. After we took the coat home, Nello put his finger to his lips,
signaling me not to say anything. He then took the coat into the bedroom
and was gone for about ten minutes. When he emerged he had a
look of glee on his face and was holding the coat high in the air. Nobbie
was intrigued, suspecting something unusual. Then Nello turned the
coat inside out and said, "Voila." He had drawn in indelible ink a
stick-figure picture of himself wearing glasses and holding a pipe in his
mouth. "See Chungko-roo, whenever you wear your coat your daddy
is right there with you, keeping you warm and loving you all the time."
The following story was written almost immediately after Nello's arrival
in London. The coat was still uppermost in his mind.

When we received this story, I was not sure that Nobbie would understand
it. He was only four years old, andalthough very intelligent,
the play on words and the humor at the end might be beyond his comprehension.
I need not have been concerned because after I read it to
him he wrote his father the following: "Daddy, I loved that story about
the serial you sent me daddy. And the man who came to fix the aerial
and he had so much confusion about the serial even you got confused.
Remember daddy?"

Hi There Chungko:

How are you little boy? Do you feel very warm in your new coat,
and every day you put it on, do you see your daddy with his glasses
and his pipe in the picture on the inside of the coat? Here is a great
big hug for you Chunkeroo, and by the way, man, you are not sending
to tell me how you like the stories. I don't know if you like the
story about the bad animals and how they got into the hole and
were covered over by the net. The last installment that I was to send
to you today was to tell you how Rhino was taking the letter in his
ears to the other bad animals and how Nicholas the Worker, made
Tweet-Tweet the Bird fly up in the trees to keep an eye on Rhino to
see what he was doing. But Nob listen carefully to what I am saying.
Let us for a moment forget this story. You have me little boy, you
understand me? Let us for a moment forget the story about Rhino.
I am going to tell you another story, the story about the Serial. And
when I have told you this story about the Serial, then next time I
shall finish the story about the bad animals. OK, Nob? OK. So now
here's the story about Serial.

Now this story is about that bad boy Boo-boo-loo who was always
doing bad things. One day in this country where Boo-boo-loo
lived, Xmas was coming near. And all the people on the radio and
owners of the big newspapers and the government municipality
and everybody got together and decided to give a big prize to anybody
who could guess, or rather who could work out, a certain
word by a certain day. This word they had written down on a piece
of paper and had sealed it up and put it away in the vault of a big
bank. Nobody could get at it. And only two people knew - the president,
who had chosen the word, and the secretary of the president,
who had helped him choose it. So if you got this word right, you
would be able to go to ten stores and choose three presents from
each one, one for yourself and two for anybody you wanted to
name. Now you could imagine what a wonderful prize that was,
and all kinds of people wanted to find the correct word so that they
could go to the store and choose the present for themselves and
choose a present for their parents. And naturally Bad Boo-boo-loo
heard of this competition and he wanted to take part in it.

Now you didn't have to guess the word altogether. The president
said that he would give certain hints every now and then in the
paper as to what the word was and he would give figures that you
would have to add and subtract and these figures would tell you
what the letters were and then these letters would enable you to
guess what the word was. But Bad Boo-boo-loo first of all was very
lazy. He didn't want to take all the trouble to get someone to read
the paper for him every day to try to find out what this word was.
But still he wanted to win the prize. So Bad Boo-boo-loo went to
Philbert and Flibert the two fleas and told them to try to find out for
him what the word was. Now Philbert and Flibert lived very quite
retired lives. They didn't know anything about the competition. All
that they knew was that Bad Boo-boo-loo had asked them to find
out a word in a certain envelope. Now Philbert and Flibert could go
anywhere. So they went through the keyhole of the bank and they
went through the keyhole of the hall and they found a little spot
in the envelope that wasn't thoroughly sealed down, and although
Philbert couldn't read, Flibert was a reader and Flibert came back
and told Bad Boo-boo-loo that the word in the envelope was Serial.
Now when Bad Boo-boo-loo heard that he didn't stop to think at
all. He said Serial must mean cereal, something that he used to have
for breakfast every morning. So Bad Boo-boo-loo thought that he
knew the word and he was sure to win the prize. So while everybody
was very busy looking up in the paper and trying to guess what the
word was, Bad Boo-boo-loo just walked around with a smile on his
face because he was sure he was going to win. Then suddenly one
day, the big shots who were organizing the competition said that
when you found out the word you had to bring what the word
represented. If you thought the word was book, you had to bring a
book. And if you thought the word was typewriter you had to bring
a typewriter. And if you thought the word was cushion you had
to bring a cushion. And so forth. So Bad Boo-boo-loo went and
bought a box of Rice Crispies. He said that's a cereal and he was sure
he was going to win. So on the day of the competition a whole lot of
people turned up in the stadium to see how the thing would go. A
great number of people had given up trying because they felt that it
was too hard to find one word. But Bad Boo-boo-loo was there with
his box of cereal tied up in a paper. And when the master of ceremonies
called Boo-boo-loo, Bad Boo-boo-loo came up and said in a
loud voice "CEREAL" and started to open his parcel. Now when Bad
Boo-boo-loo said "cereal" the president and the president's secretary
opened their eyes and began to tell everybody around that
the boy had won. The word was Serial. But when Bad Boo-boo-loo
opened his parcel, they saw that instead of having a story in a lot of
installments, he had Rice Crispies. Now, Chungko, you have to follow
me very closely here for this story becomes very complicated.
The president had said that Bad Boo-boo-loo had gotten the correct
word. But the president meant Serial, a story in installments.
But Bad Boo-boo-loo had misunderstood Philbert and Flibert and
he had heard the word Serial and thought it meant some breakfast
food. So when Bad Boo-boo-loo opened his parcel before the
judges and was getting ready to go up for the prize, the president
said, "That is not the Serial. It is another serial." So all the people
who were around began to get very confused. Bad Boo-boo-loo
said loudly: "If cereal is the word, here is my cereal."

The president said, "Serial is the word, but it is another kind of

One of the other judges said, "This whole thing is very mysterial."

Whereupon the president lost his temper and said, "What kind
of nonsense is that? You mean that the whole thing is very mysterious."

"Oh, yes," said the man, "I meant mysterious but all this talk
about Serial made me say mysterial."

Now the president wanted to tell the man to be serious, but he
was so confused with all this business about serial that he told the
man, "I wish you would be serial."

The man got very mad and said, "What? You want me to be a
breakfast food?"

But the president explained that all he wanted to say was that he
wished the man would be serious. So the man became pacified and
wanted to say to the president, "I wish you would be more careful
in future."

But Chungko, do you know what he said? "I wish you would be
more serial in future."

Now by this time the whole platform was in a tremendous confusion.
Then a man came up to the president with a box in his hand
and they asked him what he wanted. And he said, "I want to see the

So thereupon everybody on the platform looked at the man and
said to themselves, here is another mess about Serial. So they asked
him again, "What do you want," and the man said he wanted to see
the aerial.

By this time the president got so angry that he called some policemen
to throw this man off the platform, but when the police
came the man said, "I am an electrician. They told me that the radio
and television sets up here are not working very well and that I
should come and attend to the aerial. That's what I have come to
see." And he said very slowly again, "I WANT TO SEE THE AERIAL."
The president asked him, "So, Mr. Electrician, you have nothing to
do with Serial?" The electrician replied with great scorn, "Cereal?
Me? I can't stand the stuff."

The president had just got out of this and was wiping his forehead
and wondering what he was going to do about Bad Boo-boo-loo
when a young lady walked up to the platform and the president
asked her who she was. She said, "I am misterial."

The president didn't want to lose his temper anymore so he said,
"You mean, my dear young lady, that you are mysterious."

The young lady said, "Mr. President you insult me, I am a respectable
young woman. There is nothing mysterious about me. I
said I am misterial."

Whereupon the people on the platform all got very mad with the
young lady. They all began to shout. "We have had enough of this
mess about serial and misterial and aerial. Young lady you are guilty
of a breach of the peace and coming here and making remarks
about misterial." But the young lady with great dignity opened her
purse and took out a card and said, "Here is my name. My father is
Tom Terial, or as people call him, Mr. Terial, and my name is Mavis
Terial, or as some people call me Miss Terial. That is Miss Jones over
there. Over there is Miss Thompson, and I am Miss Terial. So what
is all the fuss about?"

By this time the president was in an awful mess and he put his
hand to his head and attempted to say, "All this is very mysterious."
But by this time, all that he could say was, "All this is very mysterial."
And here the poor man collapsed.

However, order was restored at last and it was decided to open
the envelope and there they saw the word Serial. And they said whoever
has got that word will gain the prize. And do you know who
had worked it out, my dear Nob? Good Boongko. He had spent a lot
of time looking up all the words in the paper and he had guessed it
and he had a whole story all cut up in little pieces, and at the end of
each piece Good Boongko had marked, "to be continued," so that
he really had the word Serial and he brought the story for them
to look at. So Good Boongko won the prize and all those present
thought that Bad Boo-boo-loo had done a very bad thing in trying
to get a prize by cheating.

November 13, 1953, London

Chapter Two

The Bomb Threat - Part 1

Although the hydrogen bomb explosion in the Marshall Islands had
been announced in March by President Eisenhower, some people were
still talking about it in December because it exceeded all estimates of
its power. Whether Nobbie had heard about the bomb earlier I don't
know because he gave no indication that he had. However, he came
home one day from school troubled. Someone had told him that it was
a bad bomb, and if evil people got hold of it, everyone would be dead. I
immediately called Nello to tell him about Nobbie's fears, and he promised
a story in the next mail. This story and the next reassured our son.

My dear Choong-ko,

Here is a story about our old friend, Bad Boo-boo-loo, that boy
who was always doing bad things, and the Club.


Excerpted from The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults
by C. L. R. James
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Serial not cereal 1
2 The bomb threat - part 1 6
3 The bomb threat - part 2 9
4 Michelangelo and the statue of David 12
5 The dirty snowball and white raincoat 15
6 Mighty Mouse and the conceited cowboy 17
7 Emperor Jones and the African drums 20
8 Nobbie's birthday 23
9 The teacher who feared rats 24
10 Androcles and the lion 27
11 The club starts a newspaper 31
12 Bruno and Leo have a fight 33
13 Bad boo-boo-loo messes up the time 37
14 The ghost at the window 39
15 Police proclamation 42
16 The remarkable Greeks - part 1 46
17 The remarkable Greeks - part 2 49
18 Delphi and Herodotus discussion 51
19 Roundheads and cavaliers 55
20 Bad boo-boo-loo rides in a horse race 57
21 The Liverpool cathedral 62
22 Children in the resistance 64
23 Ghana independence 68
24 Sir Lancelot and the tack 73
25 Apollo 77
26 The fossil fight 81
27 Bad boo-boo-loo and the shark fight 86
28 The shark fight - second installment 89
29 Ulysses - a great hero 93
30 Mighty Mouse and the sinking ship 97
31 Moby Dick fights a strange eagle 100
32 The monster in the park 103
33 The babysitter 105
34 Bruno the bulldog has heart pain 108
35 Bruno the bulldog has heart pain - continued 110
36 David and Goliath 113
37 Mighty Mouse to the rescue - again 116
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