Marcus French Celebrates Halloween in 1926

toothy pumpkin

Eighteen years ago on Halloween, the Cotsen Children’s Library opened its doors to the public.  This year, we’ll commemorate both occasions with a letter written by Marcus French, one of the most amusing and vivid of the child authors in the collection.

Some years back Bruce C. Willsie ’86, one of RBSC’s most generous donors, presented to Cotsen this delightful archive of thirty illustrated letters Marcus wrote to his big sister Eleanor when she was away at school between 1925 and 1927.  Marcus formatted all the news that was fit to relate–and fair amount that wasn’t–as if it were appearing in a Pathe newsreel.  Over the next few months I’ll be running a series of Marcus’s letters.

In 1926, ten-year-old Marcus wrote Eleanor a long letter on Halloween–four pages of news accompanied by four pages of pictures within borders of seasonal imagery he drew himself.  The first picture shows his cat Jock being run over by a motorcycle he tried to chase (maybe a classic Harley-Davidson?).  Don’t believe the bit about Jock losing a leg–he was just bruised.

page 1The inside double-page spread is a rogue’s gallery of Marcus and his friends in their Halloween costumes: Marcus as a clown (how appropriate…) Vedder as a pirate “with bandages and sword,”  William as a ghost, and Mike in a stovepipe hat and mask masquerading as a desparado Abraham Lincoln??  The boys had to wait until the rain stopped to go trick-or-treating, or as Marcus put it “make some calls,” and “have some fun,” that is, make mischief. They tore apart a big wooden frame and threw the pieces on porches, broke milk bottles, and rang doorbells and ran away.  “We didn’t get any pies,” Marcus reports sadly, raising the interesting question of, were homemade baked goods handed out to children making calls on Halloween night in lieu of Reese’s Pieces and other packaged candies?

page 2The significance of the news on the facing page is unclear, but it doesn’t look like a serious account of what was going on in the wider world.  Probably just a local newscast.  What do you suppose Marcus is doing in the upper right hand corner?  Turn the page to find out.

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Do the dog and cat look identical or are my eyes going?

On the back page is an illustration of William heaving a plank on someone’s porch, yelling at his accomplices, “Hey cheesit kids,” with Marcus joining in, “Cheesit run kids.”   Spelling and punctuation were not Marcus’s strong points, but a lexicographer might be interested to know that a kid in Montgomery County, New York, during the 1920s used that expression to signal that it was time to beat it.

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The P.S. reads “There was a man with overalls on in church this morning.”

Now Don’t Try This at Home!

Have a safe and sane Halloween from Team Cotsen!

Andrea, Dana, Ian, Jeff, Minjie and Miriam


Cotsen Children’s Library Receives the 2015 Carle Honors Angel Award!


An angel from a manuscript copybook of arithmetic problems (1715-16) by fourteen- year-old John Binford of Devon, Cotsen 46473, p. 8.

Corinna Cotsen (left); Andrea Immel (right)

Corinna Cotsen (at the podium); Andrea Immel (to her left) accepting the Carle Angel Award.

September 24th at the 10th Annual Carle Honors Princeton’s Cotsen Children’s Library was named an “Angel” for its efforts to raise awareness of the picture book as art form and influence in the wider culture. The Carle Honors Awards celebrate individuals and institutions whose creative vision and dedication are an inspiration to everyone who values pictures books and their role in arts education and literacy.  The annual awards are selected by a committee chaired by Leonard S. Marcus, founder of the Honors, and recognize achievement in four areas:

  • Artist, for lifelong innovation in the field;
  • Mentor, editors, designers, and educators who champion the art form;
  • Angel, whose generous resources are crucial to making picture book art exhibitions, education programs and related projects a reality;
  • Bridge,  individuals who have found inspired ways to bring the art of the picture book to larger audiences through work in other fields.
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Detail from p. 110


The other 2015 Carle Award winners were Helen Oxenbury (Artist), Neal Porter (Mentor) and Joan Bertin (Bridge).

More info on The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

The Cotsen Children’s Library was represented by its curator, Dr. Andrea Immel and Corinna Cotsen, the daughter of donor Lloyd E. Cotsen, ’50 and Emeritus Charter Trustee of Princeton University, Corinna is also an architect, artist, collector, and long-time board member of the Craft and Folk Arts Museum in Los Angeles.

Corinna thanked the Carle on behalf of her father, who was unable to attend the ceremony at Guastavino’s.  In sharing anecdotes about growing up in a household where both parents were book collectors, Corinna emphasized that her mother was an equal partner with her father in creating the family collection that became the Cotsen Children’s Library.

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Detail from p. 70

Andrea offered the following thoughts:

I’d like to share a memory of Bobbie and Eric Carle, the guardian angels of the Carle Honors, whom we all wish could be here with us tonight.  When the Museum of Picture Book Art was still a gleam in the Carles’ eyes, they came to see the Cotsen gallery, which then housed an interactive exhibition whose centerpiece was a fourteen-foot-tall book.  I sensed that Bobbie and Eric were going to strike out in a different direction in pursuit of their dream and I thought more power to them!  Their visit and subsequent ones from Nick Clark sparked a sense of kinship between our two institutions, which share a mission to promote the picture book genre through public programs, exhibitions, and publications.  The Carle accentuates the contemporary, the Cotsen Children’s Library the historical because of its rich collection of illustrated materials for children in all formats from around the world and across time.  Because of Mr. Cotsen’s inspired and voracious buying, the research collection offers the general public and scholars many ways to discover why the picture book is a major form of the illustrated book, with enormous potential for shaping the values that mold minds through the power of word and image.  That goes for big people as well as little ones!  Thank you for this vote of confidence in the work Team Cotsen has done over the last seventeen years.  From the outreach coordinator to the rare books cataloger, from the graphic designer to the gallery fabricator, we have experienced nothing but joy in realizing our angel Mr. Cotsen’s vision of a living library at Princeton–and we’re not about to stop.

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Detail from p. 82

While there wasn’t enough time at the ceremony to individually thank all of Team Cotsen’s angels, here is a roster of their names.  They all earned their wings through  hard work, creativity, and can-do attitude.

Mark Argetsinger, Jeffrey Barton, Judson Beaumont, Bonnie Bernstein, James Bradberry, Minjie Chen, Ian Dooley, Carolyn Hoeschele, Eric Johnson, Miriam Jankewicz, Isabella Palowich, Aaron Pickett, Daniel Rooker, Heather Shannon, Dana Sheridan, Henry Smith-Miller, Emily Strayer, Eduardo Tennenbaum, IvyTrent.

And we couldn’t have done it without the contributions of the many talented Princeton student assistants and wonderful part-time project staffers in Cotsen West over the years.

Last but not least, a special thanks to the University Librarian Karin Trainer and Associate University Librarians for Rare Books and Special Collections, William Joyce, Ben Primer, and Stephen Ferguson for their support of the flight plan for the Cotsen Children’s Library.

If you want to see more Cotsen / Carle collaboration, check out this blog post from our outreach blog about a program that Dr. Dana was invited to do at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

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Detail from p. 34