Sunday, March 10, 2024

"The Japanese Twins" by Lucy Fitch Perkins

  • Title: The Japanese Twins
  • Author and illustrator: Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937)
  • About the author: Perkins was an Indiana-born children's author and illustrator who was wildly successful (or at least her publisher was), with Houghton Mifflin selling more than 2 million copies of her books. Born Lucy Fitch, she married architect Dwight H. Perkins in 1891. According to an outstanding article on the Evanston (Illinois) Women's History Project website: "Although Perkins started her career as an artist, she utilized her position in the publishing world to instruct social change to children through her writing. ... Perkins firmly believed she could teach tolerance and mutual respect to children by appealing to their sympathies and engaging their imagination through fiction, and that despite the melting pot America was becoming, there could be peace among the different nationalities of children within Chicago and Evanston schools. She was deeply affected by the oppressed and depressed nations flocking to American shores and worried how a homogenous national could be made out of such heterogeneous material." 
  • Quote from Perkins herself: This quote is from The History Girls blog, and I confirmed that it came from 1935's The Junior Book of Authors: "The necessity for mutual respect and understanding between people of different nationalities if we are ever to live in peace on this planet. In particular I felt the necessity for this in this country where all the nations of the earth are represented in the population."
  • About the "Twins" series: Perkins published The Dutch Twins in 1911 after being inspired by friend Edwin Osgood Grover, a publisher and educator. The series was a huge success, eventually growing to 26 books. The Japanese Twins, published in 1912, was the second book in the series. According to Wikipedia: "For each book, Perkins would try to interview an individual who grew up in the given country to gain an understanding of the particular customs. In later books in the series, such as The American Twins of the Revolution, history supplanted geography as the basis of the twins' backgrounds." The Evanston Women's History Project article adds: "Through her writing of the Twin series of children’s fiction, Perkins addressed significant issues such as the tremendous importance of land ownership, absentee landlordism, immigration, game preserves and themes of almost an adult nature. However, these gave the reader an appreciation of what was done historically in America to make it the country which attracted many nations to immigrate here, and demonstrated how a cohesive future could be created if cultures and customs were understood and respected."
  • Some criticism: It should be noted that, while Perkins' aims were generally praiseworthy, at least one volume in the Twin series received both contemporary and modern criticism. 1931's The Pickaninny Twins features two African American children living in the U.S. South. In an essay that appears in the 2014 book Ethics and Children's Literature, Moira Hinderer writes: "Series books with regional themese were particularly prone to descriptions of a never-changing, plantation South stocked with stereotyped Black characters, and the wide range of reactions to these books reveals the challenges that librarians ... faced as they sought to change racial representations in children's literature." Hinderer notes that while Perkins' books focused on themes of loyalty, family, honesty and bravery, "When Perkins wrote a book about Black children in the American South she chose to call it The Pickaninny Twins. The book was a classic plantation story about the frolicking misadventures of superstititious 'darkies.' ... The publication of The Pickaninny Twins brought quick public criticism from African American librarians [even as] Perkins's work was widely praised by mainstream professional publications."
  • About this book: My hardcover copy of The Japanese Twins is listed as "School Edition" and is through The Riverside Press. While The Japanese Twins was first published in 1912, there is no publication date on this edition. However, the "Also by this author" listing at the front includes books that were published through 1938, so this volume can't be from any earlier than that year.
  • Dimensions: 5½ inches by 7⅝ inches.
  • Pages: 178, plus introduction and end notes directed at teachers
  • Provenance: The name David Clarence Frost is written in cursive on the "This Book belongs to" page. I purchased this book at Cupboard Maker Books in Enola, Pennsylvania, about four or five years ago. I got a few of Perkins' other books at the same time.
  • Excerpt #1: First of all, they came into a broad roadway with beautiful great cedar trees on each side. Under those trees were little booths. Great paper lanterns and banners of all colors hung in front of the booths; and when they waved gayly in the wind, the place looked like a giant flower-garden in full bloom.
  • Excerpt #2: Their Mother gave them each a paper umbrella in case of rain. She hung a little brocaded bag, wtih a jar of rice inside, on the left arm of each Twin. This was for their luncheon. Then she gave them each a brand-new copy-book and a brand-new soroban. A soroban is a counting machine.
  • Excerpt #3: The "Kura" is a little fireproof house in the garden. ... In it Taro and Take and their Father and Mother and Grandmother keep all their greatest treasures. That is why Taro and Take were so glad to go there. Nearly everybody in Japan has just such a safe little house in the garden. Maybe you can guess the reason why. It isn't only because of fires. It's because of earthquakes.
  • Rating on Goodreads: 3.94 stars (out of 5)
  • Goodreads review #1: TheLibraryOfSarah wrote: "Still not sure how accurate this is, but this is a very sweet story and well-written. I liked how the author wrote it in such a way that it sounds like she's talking to the reader, and I give her a lot of credit writing a book about another culture in a positive light, attempting to teach children about how other people live, in 1912."
  • Goodreads review #2 (excerpt): Ashley Lambert-Maberly wrote: "Does anyone else think ... Perkins is a long-ago closet feminist? She makes this adorable characters come to life, they act like real children, the girl twin is clearly the equal of the boy twin, and yet ... society tells the girl 'you're limited, you're not as special, you get fewer choices.' It's very frustrating, and I think Perkins intends readers to walk away with a huge dose of 'but that's not fair!'"
  • Rating on Amazon: 4.1 stars (out of 5)
  • Amazon review #1: Stephen G wrote: "Easy to read for children to give them an idea of how other cultures treat their children. I'm living in Japan and although this book is old the traditional values it depicts haven't changed much."
  • Amazon review #2: Angela Whelan wrote: "Chose several of the twins series of books as a trip down memory lane. Can distinctly remember reading them as a child and wondered why I was so enamoured of them. Have discovered how I know various things about different cultures from these books." 
Some of Perkins' illustrations from The Japanese Twins...