Earlier this month, my older sister Mary and I took a jaunt to Florida to visit some of our far-flung family members. Our last stop was on the west coast of Florida, where our cousin Katie graciously put us up for two nights.
In one of Katie's guest rooms, I found some old friends: The Dutch Twins, along with a half dozen of their companion "Twins" books, all by Lucy Fitch Perkins. Mary and I were both thrilled to see these familiar books again. They have done some travelling, these books, back and forth between our families, as each successive batch of early readers grew into them.
My mother's maiden name is the first one in this book: Henrietta B. Holmes. I note that she wrote her name in pretty decent cursive for a second grader. I estimate she would have been in second grade around 1925-26.
My maiden name, Barbara Coombs, is stamped in the upper right. There is no date there, but I think I read this same book around 1957. And my cousin Tad Kinsley, the youngest of our generation, seems to have stamped the book in 1972.
I know that The Dutch Twins was the first of the series that I read and that I loved it dearly. I can't really tell you why. I knew even then that it was a bit dated, but it charmed me. I read all of the other Twin books that I could get my hands on, but none equaled my first love, even though many were enjoyable.
Oddly enough for a children's book series, these were not all light reading. I remember finding The Belgian Twins deeply disturbing. It quite literally gave me nightmares. Now, thanks to the internet, I know why it was so terrifying: it was based on the actual stories of real children during World War I. In this book, the Belgian twins become homeless refugees, separated from their parents, hiding and fleeing ahead of the invading German army. It had lots of convincing details, I remember, such as the children's struggle to find food. Hmmm, maybe this book should be reissued for all of us adults to read now.
One book that had originally been part of our families' "Twins"collection has, quite understandably, disappeared from the group. I think my mother must have tossed it out before she passed the books back to her sister Jane for the Kinsley cousins to read, once I had outgrown them. I hesitate to even name it, for these days, it would be seen as outrageously racist. In fact, I think I will not name it here. If you are curious, you can google Lucy Fitch Perkins. I don't think you will have a hard time figuring out which book of the series I am referring to. But I don't think Ms. Perkins was at all racist. In fact, she wanted children to know and understand different cultures. But the view of these things was different in the 1920s and 1930s.
In my family, we now have a set of real life "twins" of our own, sweet grandchildren, a boy and a girl, just as in each of these books. Our twin grandchildren are only two years old now, but when they are older, would I have them read these books? Maybe. Certainly The Dutch Twins. They had a very wise and loving grandparent:
"I think I'll be a sea captain when I'm big," said Kit.
"So will I," said Kat.
"Girls can't," said Kit.
But Grandfather shook his head and said:
"You can't tell what a girl may be by the time she's four feet and a half high and is called Katrina. There's no telling what girls will do anyway.
~The Dutch Twins, originally published 1911.