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)

Celebrating Alice 150: The Colloquium “Alice in Many Wonderlands” October 7-8 at the Grolier Club

October 7th and 8th, Minjie Chen and I attended a colloquium exploring  Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland legacy as a classic of world literature.   After John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Alice is the second most frequently translated work of English literature.  Alice is by no means the only classic of children’s literature to have travelled so far beyond its culture and country–there is the parallel case of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter, which has also been translated into a surprising number of languages.

Still, this very Victorian fantasy for children seems a peculiar candidate for the honor.  Carroll’s wordplay ought to be enough to put off any translator in his or her right mind.  One hundred and fifty years after Alice’s publication, so much of the book’s contents are rooted in a particular time and place that children have begun to have some difficulty entering into its world.  And how can the concepts of childhood and gender roles or the topsy-turvy relationships between Alice and Wonderland’s stroppy and peculiar residents be presented intelligibly but amusingly to  readers outside of the Anglo-American world?  Apparently the challenges are not obstacles to the translator who sees Alice as the profession’s Mount Everest. The fact that Wonderland is there means that linguists with a little George Mallory in their souls can’t resist trying to make the ascent.


George Collingridge, Alice in One Dear Land (1922). Cotsen 22814.


Andrea Immel

The audience waiting in the Grolier Club’s auditorium was brought to order by member Jon Lindseth, organizer of the two-day colloquium, master mind, and general editor behind  Alice in a World of Wonderlands: Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece a massive 3-volume bibiography documenting and analyzing the 174 translations of this fantasy, many commissioned for the book.  Before introducing the first speaker, Lindseth thanked all the people present who had contributed in some way to this remarkable project, which would not have been possible without the dedication, energy, and generosity of an amazing number of volunteers around the world.

Emer O’Sullivan, a specialist in German- and English-language children’s literature and translation studies at Leuphana University, delivered the keynote address, “Alice in Many Tongues 50 Years On.”  She provided invaluable context for the day’s proceedings which revisited the 1964 study of  Alice in translation by Warren Weaver, Alice in Many Tongues.  A mathematician by training, a science administrator by profession, and collector by avocation, Weaver was a pioneer of machine translation.  O’Sullivan cogently explained how translation studies has moved away from the paradigm of equivalence, or sense for sense translation, towards one that negotiates the complexities of two literary systems embedded in wider cultures.  Hence the centrality of  back translation to the Alice in Many Wonderlands project.  Back translation is the process by which a native speaker of the target language turns the translation back into the original’s language, then annotates the difficult phrases and tricky concepts that pose challenges.  The annotations allow a reader without competence in a particular target language–Slovenian, Turkish, Japanese, Swahili–to appreciate the solutions the translator devised to problems throughout the text that highlight the differences in world views those languages reflect.    PR4611.A73W4frontcover (2)


Warren Weaver in his library from the dust jacket of Alice in Many Tongues. ExParrish PR4611.A73 W4.

Juan Gabriel Lopez Guix, senior lecturer at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, spoke about translations of Alice into the six languages of Spain.  His discussion of the Catalan translation was highlighted by the analysis of its illustrations by the well-known artist Lola Anglada.  The architecture of her Wonderland was in the traditional style of the region, not, as is so often the case, a reworking of Tenniel.  Lopez Guix also regaled the audience with a wonderful account of  the chapter about the perfect horse with an Eton education invented and slyly interpolated by the translator into the work.  It has subsequently been accepted by many Spanish-speaking lovers of Alice as pure Carroll.


Alicia outgrowing a Catalan farmhouse by illustrator Lola Anglada. From the second edition of Alicia en terra de meravelles (Barcelona: Edicions Mentora, 1930). Cotsen 40594.


Alicia, the Duchess, the baby, and the cook in a Catalan kitchen with vegetables much in evidence. Alicia en terra de meravelles (1930). Cotsen 40594.

Endangered languages was the thread connecting the day’s final two presentations, which  I (Andrea) found unexpectedly moving for the pride both speakers communicated about the expressiveness of Scots and Hawaiian.  Derrick McClure, emeritus professor Aberdeen University and MBE for service to Scottish culture, began by noting that the demise of the ten Scots dialects has been confidently predicted for at least two hundred years and yet people still speak and write in them.  He read excerpts from translations of Alice into Shetland, one of the dialects of Insular Scots, Northern which is centered around Aberdeen, and West Central or the Scots spoken in Glasgow.  Keao NeSmith, professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and one of the two hundred remaining native speakers of Hawaiian, began with a welcome in his language.   He agreed to translate Alice in Wonderland (which he had never read before taking on the project) in order to increase the books for pleasure reading available to the growing number of people learning Hawaiian as a legacy language.  NeSmith has gone on to translate Through the Looking Glass and Tolkien’s Hobbit–and in the future, Harry Potter.   Hearing the sound of Scots and Hawaiian made this session especially memorable, even I could not understand what was being said.



Down the rabbit hole! Antje Vogel, Alice im Wunderland (Munster: F. Coppenrath, c.1984) Cotsen 1129.


Minjie Chen

Zongxin Feng, Russell Kaschula, and Sumanyu Satpathy, three scholars from China, South Africa, and India respectively, talked about the tribulations of Alice publications in varying socio-economical and political contexts. Their presentations detailed the challenges of enabling young readers whose native languages are not English to appreciate Alice’s adventure in Wonderland.

From Feng’s presentation, we learned that Alice in Wonderland was first translated into Chinese by Yuen Ren Chao (赵元任), a China-born and US-educated linguist, in 1922. (As an interesting connection, one of Chao’s daughters is Lensey Namioka, a mathematics major and a successful children’s writer in the United States.) Thanks to Chao’s pioneering work, Alice became a well-known story to Chinese readers and, until the establishment of the Communist regime in 1949, was also the source of inspiration for derivative children’s stories and plays, as well as allegorical writings and political satires for the general audience. During the first three or four decades of the People’s Republic of China, however, Alice was among the numerous Western publications that were censored. Reprints and new translations of Alice did not flourish until the 1980s.


阿麗斯的奇夢 = Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (abridged) / Lewis Carroll ; translated and retold by Xu Yingchang (徐應昶). (Shanghai: Shang wu yin shu guan, 1933) Cotsen 68440.


阿麗思的夢 [Alice’s Dream] / by Yu Zheguang. (Shanghai: Shanghai mu ou ju she chu ban she, 1935?) Cotsen 90246.


愛麗思夢遊奇境記 = Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Lewis Carroll ; abridged by Fan Quan (范泉). 5th ed. (Shanghai: Yong xiang yin shu guan, February 1949) Cotsen 75170.

The richness of linguistic diversity in Africa and India poses the first challenge for making Alice accessible to children in those areas. (2,000 languages are estimated to be spoken in Sub-Saharan Africa and 22 languages are officially recognized in India.) Kaschula addressed the question of why we should desire Alice in more language editions: being able to enjoy a literary text in one’s native language has a huge benefit for literacy acquisition. His and Satpathy’s presentations examined Alice in nine African languages and eleven Indian languages, focusing on how translators grappled with the often-times irreconcilable tension between fidelity and a friendly text to young readers. As Satpathy pointed out, particularly thorny cases were with names of food, dress, flora, and fauna specific to Victorian England, in addition to puns, parodies, and songs.

African translators’ localization efforts resulted in many creative solutions, replacing foreign food, animals, birds, and objects with indigenous ones in Africa. “Tea-tray” became “winnowing basket”; “treacle” turned into “honey.” Most fascinatingly, Kaschula explained that in the African context, the phrase “murder the time” (from the chapter “A Mad Tea-Party”) does not make sense. Time is conceptualized as being circular (as it is seasonal) as opposed to being linear and one-directional the way it is perceived in Western cultures. It is not something that can be killed. In respect to African storytelling tradition, some translations have also adopted the present tense for the book.


The White Rabbit in African dress late for his very important date from a translation into Swahili by St. Lo de Malet entitled Elisi Katika Nchi Ya Ajabu (London: Sheldon Press, 1966) Cotsen 33665.

Indian translators took no less liberty when it came to rendering the Alice story more intimate to local children. “Hat” became “topi”; through a rather convoluted or mysterious process, “wine” became “rice pudding.” Well, transformations are such a normal occurrence that Alice learns to embrace them by the time she finishes a bottle that is not marked “poison.” Therefore, we should not be surprised by these name swaps. Indeed, Alice herself transforms as she travels across culture. In illustrations of some African and Indian editions, she is depicted as either a delightful black girl or one dressed in a bright sari.


Elisi Katika Nchi Ya Ajabu. Cotsen 33665.


The conference closed with a linguistic feast offered by Michael Everson. He runs Evertype, a publishing company which has produced Alice in seemingly a myriad of languages and alphabets. Some of the more unusual examples are:

  • Alice in a font friendly to dyslexic readers, featuring rotund “bottoms” of each alphabet;
  • Alice in a font that simulates the difficult decoding experience of dyslexia, with the purpose of fostering empathy between non-dyslexic and dyslexic readers;
  • Alice in the International Phonetic Alphabet, an alphabetic system of phonetic notation frequently used by foreign-language learners.
  • Mr. Everson ended his presentation by reading aloud the scene of Alice’s encounter with the hookah-smoking Caterpillar in multiple languages and accents: Irish, Icelandic, Middle English, Old English, Latin, Ladino, Ulster Scots, Scouse, and Appalachian English. I (Minjie) had no idea what he was reading most of the time, but with the rise and fall of his dynamic voice, I seemed to understand everything.

The conference closed a round table discussion among the day’s speakers.   The proceedings closed with a festive dinner for several hundred people at the Cosmopolitan Club, where Michael F. Suarez, S. J., the director of Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, spoke after dinner on the subject of “Alice the Book: A World-wide Phenomenon.”

Cheers to everyone who participated in this marvellous two-day tribute to Alice and her devoted and ingenious translators.


The Anthony Groves-Raines tailpiece for one of the pamphlets of Alice parodies that Guinness produced as holiday keepsakes, Alice Aforethought: Guinness Carrolls for 1938. Cotsen 9049.