Mother Goose Gets a Makeover…

Courtesy of McLoughlin Brothers…

What does the name “Mother Goose” call to mind?  For one thing, it’s pretty much synonymous with fairy tales and nursery rhymes, isn’t it?  The name Mother Goose also tends to conjure up a picture in the mind’s eye of many people a kindly old lady, telling stories to children, but very much a figure from times past–just like the tales associated with her, which are actually rooted in the (pre-printing) oral story-telling tradition in France1.

I’ll take a quick look at some aspects of the “history” of Mother Goose tales in a moment, but first I’d like to focus on how she’s pictured–both in actual illustrations and in imagination.  I’ve always seemed to imagine Mother Goose as a timeless sort of character, not changing much with passing trends, in much the same way that the tales associated with her remain relatively “stable” as texts (which isn’t to say that details in the tales don’t change in different versions–they do–but rather, that the tales themselves and their essential outlines have generally been remarkably durable and quite constant over time).


Mother Goose, as pictured on the cover of “McLoughlin Brothers 81st Annual Catalogue” (New York, 1909) Cotsen 94404

What sort of a portrayal am I talking about?  One much like the view of Mother Goose featured on the cover of a sales catalog issued in 1909 by American children’s book publisher McLoughlin Brothers, which I recently cataloged.  Take a look for yourself!  The hat, the cape, the “granny glasses” … clearly, a figure from a bygone era.  Nobody dressed like that in 1909!  McLoughlin Brothers wants to hearken back to another era, not a specific one, but one generally located in the past. And it’s worth pointing out that Mother Goose isn’t actually mentioned by name anywhere on the cover, but it’s immediately obvious who is pictured, now as it was then.  Talk about an image fixed in the public’s mind!


Upper wrapper of McLoughlin Brothers 1909 “Catalogue” (Cotsen 94404)

Since Mother Goose is featured on the the cover of McLoughlin’s catalog, it’s almost as if the firm is trying to appropriate her as their spokesperson, endorsing the products they want to sell!  And who could resist an endorsement from Mother Goose herself?


Mother Goose, as pictured on the title page of 1909 catalog (Cotsen 94404)

A similar depiction of Mother Goose appears on the title page of this McLoughlin catalog too.  Her appearance and clothing is consistent, as you can see.  She’s mounted on a goose here–a visual play on her name!–set against a circle suggesting the moon, a depiction McLoughlin Bros. frequently used, including as a series logo for their “Mother Goose Series.”

That same image of Mother Goose appears in more than ten McLoughlin catalogs, as we can see on the two title pages below, one from 1909 and one from 1913.  All McLoughlin changed on the title page was the date (and the catalog’s content, of course).


1909 catalog title page (Cotsen 32836)


1913 catalog title page (Cotsen 94154)







A timeless character, an unchanging pictorial rendition… Pretty much what we’d expect…

Mother Goose on the cover of McLoughlin Bros. 1923 "Catalogue" (Cotsen 94157)

Mother Goose on the cover of McLoughlin Bros. 1923 “Catalogue” (Cotsen 94157)

But as I worked my way through some of the other, later, McLoughlin catalogs, I noticed something  surprising!  McLoughlin modified their portrayal of the “timeless” figure of Mother Goose, more or less in sync with shifts in the overall “look” of their artwork and design.

The first catalog where I noticed a change was McLoughlin’s 1923 issue.  She’s still riding the familiar goose on the cover, but she has lost her “old-fashioned” glasses and her clothing has been slightly updated.  Her cape is billowing out behind her, and the figure is less static and little more dramatic.  Small changes perhaps but quite a different look.

The change becomes more noticeable in McLoughlin’s 1947 “Catalog,” which drops the Anglicized spelling “Catalogue” in favor of the “American” and more “modern” version of the word.


Mother Goose on the title page of McLoughlin’s 1947 “Catalog” (Cotsen 94156)

Mother Goose’s “look” has really been made over by McLoughlin’s artists this time, in terms of both her clothing and her determined facial expression.  No granny glasses.  She seems to be a woman who knows exactly where she wants to go and who is getting there fast, as her flapping cape suggests.  After all, she’s flying, much like the planes that had become increasingly familiar objects to readers in the 1940s.  (Her goose also seems to have gotten progressively happier too.)

To me, the overall impression of the 1947 illustration is consistent with the artwork we see in McLouglin’s actual children’s books of this period–also generally more schematic, less fussy in the detailing of feathers and clothing folds, and just more “modern” in feeling than the previous versions.


Cover of McLoughlin Bros. “1947 Catalog” (Cotsen 94156)

The change in the cover design of the cover of the 1947 catalog is really striking–that’s really what keyed me to the changes in Mother Goose’s appearance on the title page.  The colors are vivid and bright, the text pared down, and a more stylized font used. The actual cover illustration is populated with characters from the “Little Lulu” books that this catalog itself touts as a new McLoughlin offering in children’s books.


New look–traditional title: Little Lulu reads “Fairy Tales”

But, despite the new look and new characters, what is Lulu herself reading to the children?  Why, it’s “Fairy Tales,” the familiar old favorites associated with Mother Goose!  Some things really are timeless!



Fairy tales themselves are essentially timeless.  Tales and stories get told and retold over and over again. Part of their attraction lies in their very familiarity, the same way that part of Mother Goose’s attraction is how familiar a figure she seems to be.  McLoughlin Bros. repeatedly uses illustrations of her in their advertising, apparently in hopes invoking this comfortable familiarity to appeal to child-readers and their book-buying parents.  But in terms of both how Mother Goose is depicted and the overall look of McLoughlin’s catalogs, things come a long way in 40 years, as we can see in the grouping below of the catalog covers I’ve been talking about:


1909 “Catalogue” (Cotsen 94404)


1923 “Catalogue” (Cotsen 94157)

1947 Catalog" (Cotsen 94156)

1947 “Catalog” (Cotsen 94156)








McLoughlin Brothers–always attuned to ways they could update children’s classics with an eye to sales and marketing–does much the same thing with the “timeless” figure of Mother Goose in other places too.  In addition to recycling old favorites in many  cases, the firm also seemed to be endlessly trying out “new takes” of them–just to see if these might catch on with customers. Sometimes “old” and “new” coexist side-by-side, as we see in the catalog entry below for two “Mother Goose Editions”:

Mother Goose

Two “Mother Goose Editions” advertised in McLoughlin’s 1909 catalog (Cotsen 32836)

Next to the cover of one book featuring the familiar “old” version of Mother Goose is another cover depicting Mother Goose as a little girl on the cover of “Little Mother Goose.”  A very different character, one presumably seeking to capitalize on how much children are attracted to illustrations of other children. But apart from her trip to the Fountain of Youth, Little Mother Goose’s paraphanlia is very much in the traditional mode–and instantly recognizable to a child-reader or adult book-shopper as “Mother Goose.”

Another version of Little Mother Goose appears on the cover of McLoughlin Brothers’ 1906 catalog, one of those featuring the same traditional view of Mother Goose on the title page that we saw above (in the 1909 and 1913 catalogs).  Traditional and updated views of Mother Goose are thus juxtaposed, quite different depictions but both immediately recognizable.  (Note how the hint of a moon in the “logo version” has been turned into a smiling Man in the Moon here.)


Mother Goose on the upper wrapper of McLoughlin Bros 1906 catalog (Cotsen 94406, v. 57)

McLoughlin Bros. invokes the “timeless” aspect of Mother Goose, while feeling free to innovate and update, just as they did time and time again with virtually all children’s literature they published.


  1. Peasants Tell Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose,” Robert Darton (The Great Cat Massacre, (Basic Books, 1984)

On the Road with the Cotsen Library: or, Some Independent Bookstores Are Alive and Well

My father used to talk about taking a “busman’s holiday” –that is, doing pretty much the same thing on vacation that he did at work (and no, he wasn’t a busman himself, but rather someone who worked in an office).  A great phrase, as I hope you’ll agree!

With that in mind, have you ever wondered what a bibliophile or a librarian who is interested in children’s books does while on vacation?  Well, some of us like to look at bookstores and libraries (along with doing other things too, I hasten to add!).

Thus, the recent ALA Annual Conference and Rare Books & Manuscripts “Preconference” in San Francisco and Oakland, respectively, provided a jumping-off point for later sight-seeing — and, in the process, happening upon some amazing small bookshops, run by real book-lovers, by pure serendipity.  (For all the great aspects of having the world of books accessible via online shopping, nothing quite compares to just stumbling upon a bookstore or catching a glimpse of an attractive book cover or dust-jacket you’ve never seen before, does it?)

First, there was Village Books, in Ukiah, California, about 100 miles North of San Francisco.  We spotted this small shop across the street from our lunchtime retreat from 100+ degree heat.  As soon as we entered, I knew we’d found a great bookstore!  Even the check-out counter was covered with books, as you can see:


Village Books, Ukiah, California

That introductory “prologue” was certainly borne out by another look around:



Books from floor-to-ceiling, convenient reading spaces throughout… a bibliophile’s delight… mostly used books, but some new ones too.

Of particular interest to me were the sections with children’s (and young adult) books, packed almost to the rafters:







And especially eye-catching was a dedicated children’s reading area, clearly meant to welcome young readers into a comfortable setting and encourage them to sit and read books of all sorts:





But this is a bookstore after all, not a library, so what did we buy?


Upper cover of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, with color-printed paper onlay (Harper & Bros., 1911) author’s collection

To name just a few, some nice French-language children’s books (for a YA reader learning French), a vintage copy of Lord of the Flies (bought by an adult for aforementioned YA reader, since Lord of the Flies seems to have fallen off the assigned list of books for middle schoolers), and a very nicely illustrated 1911 edition of Tom Brown’s School Days, with artwork by Louis Rhead, and a paper onlay on the upper cover that reminds us reminded me just how much work went into late 19th- and early 20th-century publisher’s bindings.

Tom Brown’s School Days (1857) is one of those “children’s classics,” hugely-influential and once widely read, but seldom read by child readers any more.  (Actually, a surprising number of “children’s classics” fall into the category of well-known but not much read now.)  It’s a landmark example of a “school story,” fiction focusing on children or adolescents within a school context (usually a boarding school), a genre especially popular in England from the mid- to late-1700s through the mid-1940s.  Some other prominent examples include: Sarah Fielding’s The Governess (1749) and Kipling’s Stalky & Co. (1899).

Think school stories are utterly passé?  Well, think again… J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels drew heavily on the genre — Hogwarts, focal point of the action, is, after all, a school, and most of the main characters are students or masters there — and many critics have discussed how Rowling both made use of and extended the school story genre.  Like Tom Brown, Harry Potter comes somewhat timidly to a new school, has to learn the ropes, and undergoes various trials and bullying in the course of making moral choices, learning about himself, and growing up.


As that venerable and learned poet…says


Poor old Benjy!

Although Tom Brown is set in Thomas Arnold’s reform-oriented Rugby School of the 1840s, the story details quite a bit of unruly hijinks by the boys, as well as a lot of fighting and some harrowing bullying — all of which no doubt fascinated boy readers, at whom the book seems clearly aimed. Rhead’s full-page illustrations in  this edition compellingly depicted many of these events, and in addition, he provided small historiated letters at the beginning of chapters, which I particularly like. A real window onto another era.










But time to move on… How about continuing our bibliographic travelogue and moving from Northern California to Seattle … and from school stories to Wonderland?

Again, serendipity plays a major role in the story — sometimes you find bookstores where you would least expect to find them, as was the case for us in Seattle.  Seattle’s Pike Place Market is famous: the usual tourist souvenirs, fresh fruit and veggies, and lots and lots of fresh fish, including “flying fish,” tossed around by energetic fishmongers! (This fish-tossing is so renowned that it serves as the subject of a movie titled “FISH!,” which is about improving customer service, workplace morale, and motivating workers. If you don’t believe me, do a quick online search!)








A fun place to visit — but hardly a place you’d expect to find a bookstore…  But tucked away in a downstairs corridor, around the corner from a cookie shop, a coffee bar, and a take-out food place, we happened to see a brightly-colored bookstore wedged into a space not much more than ten or fifteen feet wide: Lamplight Books.


A glimpse inside the shop…


Lamplight Books, Seattle Market.








Cover of Through the Looking-Glass (Dodge & Co., 1909?) author’s collection


Sightseeing again took a back-seat to book-browsing, as we went through the hidden garden gate or down the rabbit hole into another magical world of books…

Among the books we discovered was a hard-cover second printing of one of Durrell’s Alexandra Quartet novels, well-read but still with its original dust-jacket — and still cheaper than a new paperback edition elsewhere — and an even more well-read 1909 edition of Through the Looking Glass by American publisher Dodge & Co., which interested me for several reasons.

First, the illustrations by Bessie Pease Guttmann present Alice as a dark-haired girl — quite unlike Tenniel’s depiction, but much like Carroll’s own artwork in his original Alice manuscript edition — with the Queen of Hearts as the blondie — and one looking very much like Tenniel’s chess piece depiction in Looking Glass, not a playing card or Queen Victoria parody a la Alice in Wonderland.









But even more arresting were the unique markings and colorings in this copy of the book, presumably made by a child-reader. As we see on the pictorial endpapers, printed in a blue-outlined pattern, an apparently quite young reader has “embellished” things!  (I’d say she/he was young, based on the roughness of the coloring.)


Blue-printed patterned endpapers colored by child reader.

And this embellishment continues throughout the book, whose blue-printed outline borders were apparently irresistible to the reader.  Sometimes, the child embellisher fully colored the illustrations on an entire page, and sometimes he/she has focused in only on details apparently of particular interest to him or her, as we can see in the instances below:


Instances of selective coloring by child reader

This is pattern of varied “levels” of markings in children’s books is something I’ve observed before and discussed here on the Cotsen blog.  Was the reader of this book simply focusing on things of particular interest to her/him, or responding to the story and somehow trying to foreground characters and aspects discussed on particular pages by coloring them in there — in effect providing a reader’s commentary of sorts?  Of course, there’s no way to be sure. But since identifying agency by child-readers and making sense of reader-response is certainly a topic of considerable interest to those analyzing child readership today, I wonder if patterns of marking like those found in this book might conceivably shed some light on these areas of inquiry?

This copy of Through the Looking Glass also manifests evidence of another possible  sort of reader “appetite” on quite a number of pages, as we can see on the example below:







It’s a little hard to tell what these are? Bite-marks?  If so, made by a child?  By several different children?  By the family dog?  Or just marks of rough handling?  They certainly look like bite marks to me!  And if so, what might this suggest to us about the reader(s) of this book or child readers, in general?  Along with the markings, this definitely suggests that this copy of Through the Looking Glass did indeed “find its reader” who extensively handled and “interacted with” the book in several ways, even if we can’t be sure that he/she necessarily read the text on the pages.

I think the signs of book use here also underscore an important aspect of children’s use of books; it’s frequently unpredictable — often spontaneous and unplanned — and thus it can be hard to “interpret” what this “evidence” means, as well as dangerous to read too much into this by adults who are coming along later and trying to investigate child reading.  Child readers leave a lot of clues, but how can we be sure that we’re “reading” them accurately from our adult critical vantage-point?  There’s always an element of speculation in this critical approach, isn’t there?

Apart from an opportunity to think about children’s marks in books and talk about a couple of interesting editions of children’s “classics,” I guess the broader “moral” of my story here is really to highlight that independent bookstores — and great ones too! — can still be found out there, sometimes when and where you least expect them.  There’s real pleasure to be had in browsing them with no particular book or aim in sight, especially if you’re a book-lover. Sometimes you find amazing things that you had no idea you were looking for! There can be real serendipitous pleasure in simple serendipity…