Collecting Juvenile Book Series: Our Little Cousins
Our Little French Cousin
Our Little Russian Cousin
Many people like to collect vintage juvenile series books. Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys and The Bobbsey Twins are some of the most popular collectibles. But a charming, old, often-overlooked series is one called Our Little Cousins. From 1901 until around 1933, publisher L.C. Page produced this high-end children’s series with at least 53 titles, each representing a different country.
The smallish-sized books (5 1/4″ x 7 3/4″) were bound in slick tan cloth and had unique, lightly embossed pictorial covers in three or four colors. They also had white pictorial dust jackets and six black-and-white glossy internal plates. Tissue paper guarded each frontispiece. The books were trademarked and designed to be culturally and geographically educational, yet still entertaining. A charming preface in each book always introduced the country and its people before the child’s story began, similar to this one for “Our Little Irish Cousin”:
“You have often heard people speak of the Emerald Isle….. The rains there fall so often, and the sun shines so warmly afterward, that Mother Nature is able to dress herself in the brightest and loveliest of colors. The people there are cheerful and good-natured. They are always ready to smile through their tears and see the funny side of every hardship.
“And, alas! many things have happened to cause their tears to flow. They have suffered from poverty and hunger. Thousands of them have been forced to leave parents and friends, and seek a living within the kindly shores of America.
“America is great, America is kind, they may think, but oh! for one look at the beautiful lakes of Killarney; oh ! for a walk over the green fields and hills of the Emerald Isle. And oh! for the chance to gather a cluster of shamrocks, the emblem of dear old Erin.
“The little Irish cousin, who has never left her native land, may be poor, and sometimes ragged, but her heart is warm and tender, and she loves her country and her people with a love that will never change, no matter where she may travel or what fortune may befall her.”
The books were written and decorated by a wide variety of authors and illustrators, although a few names appeared often. Mary Hazelton (Blanchard) Wade was the most prolific, followed by Blanche McManus. But contributors also included Mary F. Nixon-Roulet, H. Lee M. Pike, Edward C. Butler, Luna May Innes and several others.
Our Little Eskimo Cousin
Our Little African Cousin
Our Little Swedish Cousin
The majority of the series books (at least 45) were produced before 1913, but they were continuously reissued. After a gap of several years, approximately eight new titles were slowly added. “Our Little Manchurian Cousin” appears to be the last, in 1933 (it was re-issued in 1935).
The gap and slowdown in titles allowed the introduction of a new concept. Beginning in 1913, publisher L.C. Page (now called The Page Company) tried a new series on the same theme: Our Little Cousins of Long Ago, which was produced in 13 volumes until around 1921. In the preface to the first book, “Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago,” the publisher acknowledged the success of the original Little Cousin series and concluded that modern children also needed to learn the stories of everyday life in ancient times.
The stories were set in the midst of historical events, but they focused on customs, livelihoods and beliefs. Festivals, dinners, schoolwork, games, costumes and even funerals were included. The initial story of Marcus, the Roman cousin, was set “during the closing days of the Roman Republic, when conservative members of the nobility still held to the sturdy habits and the simplicity of worship of earlier times.”
Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago
Our Little Spartan Cousin of Long Ago
The high quality of Our Little Cousins of Long Ago was the same as the original series, again with lightly embossed pictorial covers. But the cover backgrounds were deep blue with bright yellow titles. And, the frontispieces were now printed in color. Each book included an extensive bibliography of historical references that were used to lay the foundation for the fictional children’s story.
This entire Cousins series was remarkable in its ability to combine historical events with entertaining fiction about a young child who lived in a particular country and period. Probably the only other series that comes close is the Childhood of Famous Americans that was produced much later (from the 1940s to the early 1960s) and became collectible for its silhouette illustrations.
The Cousin series lost steam in the early 1930s, probably because it was much more appealing to adults than to children. Its didactic approach seemed dull when compared to the many mystery and adventure series being produced for young readers during that same time.
It is a fun series to collect in its original format, with distinctive colorful covers—each one unique with a child dressed in country and period costume. Some titles are more illusive than others and very early first editions can be difficult. (Four titles were produced in the first year, 1901: Japanese, Brown, Indian and Russian. “Our Little Brown Cousin” was apparently not reprinted and is one of the hardest to find in good condition). The Long Ago Cousins were not reissued as often as the original series, so many of these later titles are very rare. A few of the books can still be found in dust jackets, but they demand higher prices.
Part of the series was re-released in paperback form in 2007. Our Little Cousin was reprinted by Dodo Press and Our Little Cousin of Long Ago was reprinted by Yesterday’s Classics. These versions are inexpensive and can be easily found.
Our Little Cousins
1901-1913 and 1917-1933
African, Alaskan, Arabian, Armenian, Australian, Belgian, Boer, Bohemian, Brazilian, Brown, Bulgarian, Canadian, Chilean, Chinese, Cuban, Czecho-Slovak, Danish, Dutch, English, Eskimo, Egyptian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hawaiian, Hindu, Hungarian, Indian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Jewish, Jugoslav, Korean, Manchurian, Mexican, Norwegian, Panama, Persian, Philippine, Portuguese, Puerto Rico, Polish, Quebec, Russian, Scotch, Siamese, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss, Turkish and Welsh.
Our Little Cousins of Long Ago
Athenian, Aztec, Carthaginian, Celtic, Crusader, Feudal, Frankish, Macedonian, Norman, Roman, Saxon, Spartan and Viking.
Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books.
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