Perkins, Lucy Fitch
PERKINS, Lucy Fitch
Born 1865, Maples, Indiana; died 18 March 1937, Pasadena, California
Daughter of Appleton H. and Elizabeth Bennett Fitch; married Dwight H. Perkins, 1891; children: two
Lucy Fitch Perkins grew up in Maples, Indiana, and Kalamazoo, Michigan; her family also made frequent visits to Massachusetts, where both parents' had roots. Perkins attended school at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, graduating at age twenty-one. For a year she was employed by the Louis Prang Educational Company of Boston to do illustrations for school materials. The following four years, Perkins was on the faculty of the newly established art school at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn. In 1891 she married and later had two children; the family made their home in Evanston, Illinois, and Perkins was employed by Prang's Chicago office.
By the time Perkins began her Twins series in 1911 (The Dutch Twins), she had become convinced of two things. One was that peace could come to the world only if the peoples of all nations could achieve "mutual respect and understanding," and the other was that children could grasp really big issues if they were made interesting to them. Perkins also had a strong conviction American children should realize the labor, suffering, and inspiration that went into building the country. Utilizing both international and patriotic themes, Perkins produced the Geographical and Historical Twin series.
Because Perkins understood the fear of loneliness, she gave each book two protagonists—inseparable twins; because she knew that girls and boys love to laugh, she laced her text with puckish humor, but the humor never detracts from the serious themes. Plots are invariably full of action and suspense, with clever denouements that never seem contrived. Perkins's delightful drawings illustrate the novels, but fully as delightful are the word pictures with which Perkins makes the reader familiar with faraway places and long-ago happenings.
The geographical books show vividly how life is lived in various foreign countries. Customs, festivals, and games are skillfully woven into the plots. Glossaries for pronunciation of unfamiliar names and some foreign words and phrases are supplied. One critic cites Perkins as "one of the rare pioneers in…foreign background story books." She shows "that the 'travel story book' could create sympathetic understanding of other people, that American children enjoyed the kinship they felt with her book children." The same might be said for the historical books, which depict various eras and episodes in the nation's life.
Perkins never regarded herself as a feminist, but her stories give glimpses of a strong feeling about the role of women in society. Her twins are, with one exception, a boy and a girl (the Spanish twins are both male); the sister shares all the adventures of the brother (except in The American Twins of 1812, 1925, in which the boy becomes involved in the war). More than one of Perkins' little girls voices frustration with her feminine lot, disliking the idea of being forced into an acquiescent, passive way of life and prevented from questing the new, the strange, and the dangerous.
All the books have great charm, infused as they are with enthusiasm and cheerfulness. Few people of any age can read them without being captivated. But because they were aimed specifically at children, Perkins used to test each manuscript on a group of girls and boys she called "the poison squad," taking their comments and suggestions seriously. As a result, the Twin series had a devoted following, achieving great popularity through the years.
The Goose Girl (1906). A Book of Joy: A Story of a New England Summer (1907). The Japanese Twins (1912). The Irish Twins (1913). The Eskimo Twins (1914). The Mexican Twins (1915). The Cave Twins (1916). The Belgian Twins (1917). The French Twins (1918). The Spartan Twins (1918). The Scotch Twins (1919). The Italian Twins (1920). The Puritan Twins (1921). The Swiss Twins (1922). The Filipino Twins (1923). The Colonial Twins of Virginia (1924). The American Twins of the Revolution (1926). The Pioneer Twins (1927). The Farm Twins (1928). Kit and Kat: More Adventures of the Dutch Twins (1929). The Indian Twins (1930). The Pickaninny Twins (1931). The Norwegian Twins (1933). The Spanish Twins (1934). The Chinese Twins (1935). The Dutch Twins and Little Brother (1938). Robin Hood (n.d.). Cornelia: The Story of a Benevolent Despot (n.d.).
Meigs, C., et al., A Critical History of Children's Literature (1953, revised 1969). Perkins, E. E., Eve Among the Puritans (1956).
Junior Book of Authors (1951). NAW (1971).
Elementary English Review (May 1936).
—ABIGAIL ANN HAMBLEN