recess radio program

10/21/04
Lucy Fitch Perkins
    by Rita Smith

Lucy Fitch Perkins was born in 1865, attended art school at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, taught design and drawing at Pratt Institute and after her marriage and move to Chicago, did free-lance illustration. It wasn't until 1911, when she was 47, that she began her career of making books for children for which she is best remembered today. One afternoon Lucy was spinning a story for her four year old son, illustrating it as she went along, when an idea for a children's book about a pair of Dutch twins came to her. She made a dozen sketches and showed them to a publisher friend of hers. "You have a book here," he told her and as they sat down and worked out the beginnings of the story, Lucy saw that she did have a good marketable idea that could even be expanded beyond the current book: a geographical and historical series with twins as main characters that could demonstrate the idea that children all over the world have many things in common.

The first book, The Dutch Twins, published in 1911, was about two five-year-old twins, Kit and Kat, who spend many happy hours fishing off the pier, helping their Father garden, skating on frozen canals, and celebrating St. Nicholas Day. This was followed the next year by The Japanese Twins and then The Irish Twins. The titles came to be collectively called the Twins of the World Series and Perkins produced a title every year for the next quarter century.

When the books were about contemporary children, Perkins visited the Chicago immigrant communities from that country and when they were about children of earlier historical eras like The Cave Twins and The Spartan Twins, she did extensive research at the library. Perkins' hoped her books would foster mutual respect and understanding between people of different nationalities and pave the way to peaceful interaction between the many different immigrant groups that had come to the United States in the previous decades. She felt children would understand this big idea of brotherhood if it were presented in a way that would hold their interest and engage their imagination.

The books never won literary prizes and were not on the approved reading lists of the American Library Association but they were favorites of children. In 1936 word came to Perkins from Geneva, Switzerland, that her publishers had been asked to place all 26 of the Twins books in the League of Nations Library because of the assistance they rendered to international friendship. When Lucy heard this, she was satisfied that her mission had been accomplished and her goal realized.

Sources:

Kunitz, Stanley J. and Howard Haycraft, eds. The Junior Book of Authors. New York: The H. H. Wilson Company, 1940, p. 295-6.

Perkins, Eleanor Ellis. Eve Among the Puritans: A Biogrqphy of Lucy Fitch Perkins. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1956.

Copyright 2004 Rita Smith

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Friday, 24-Sep-2004 12:07:02 EDT


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