FIRST EDITION OF TOBE, WARMLY INSCRIBED BY PHOTOGRAPHER CHARLES FARRELL
(FARRELL, Charles, photographer) SHARPE, Stella Gentry. Tobe. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939. Quarto, original orange cloth, original dust jacket. $750.
First edition of this 1940s children's book featuring African American children and their lives on a North Carolina farm, with beautiful photographic illustrations, inscribed by the photographer: "To Esther with affection. Chas. Farrell."
In the 1930s, a young African American boy in North Carolina asked his neighbor, a white teacher named Stella Gentry Sharpe, why all of his storybooks were about white children. Recognizing the lack of representation, Sharpe set to work on Tobe, a photo-illustrated children's book about a six-year-old African American boy living on a farm in North Carolina. Tobe shows its eponymous protagonist and his siblings enjoying North Carolina through the seasons—from playing with pet goats to dressing up on Halloween. The book does contain occasional awkward moments—for instance, Tobe is shown helping with the cotton harvest, as the UNC Press required cotton farming to be part of any book about the rural South even though tobacco farming would have been more accurate in Tobe's region of North Carolina (Johnston, citing Tobe: A Critical Edition). Nevertheless, Tobe is a rare and early example of Black American representation in children's books. In fact, it was repeatedly advertised in NAACP's magazine, The Crisis, suggesting that contemporary Black readers found Tobe to be a welcome addition to the children's canon. This copy is also inscribed by the photographer, North Carolina native Charles Farrell. After beginning his career at Kodak as a technical representative, Farrell smoothly transitioned into one of the most prominent photographers in North Carolina, known for his portraiture. This is one of five books he photographed for UNC Press. Dust jacket price blacked out.
Book near-fine, with only a few very faint spots of foxing and light rubbing to extremities. Dust jacket extremely good, with only faint staining to rear panel, a bit of wear to extremities, and tape repair to verso. A desirable copy.