Young Voices from the Field and Home Front: World War II as Depicted in Contemporary Children’s Literature

Author photo: Wendy StephensWendy Stephens is Chair of the School Library Media program at Jacksonville State University. She is the current AASL Region V Director. She received the Louise Seaman Bechtel fellowship in the summer of 2016 to support her study of World War II–era children’s literature.

Promoting support for Allied Forces was a central theme of contemporary children’s literature in the eve of and during World War II; the body of work captures a surprisingly complex and conflicted view of armed conflict and nationhood.

Amid the expected imperatives that American children scavenge scrap metal for war bonds and cozy stories of English children evacuated to safety in North America, there is nostalgia for pastoral Russia and an unabashed celebration of the Soviet collective effort. In one of the most charged depictions, a pair of dachshunds forced to wear Nazi uniforms outwit their master. An Austrian refugee, the creation of a refugee writer, pointedly informs a naïve French peasant boy: “There are a great many Germans who hated the Nazis, didn’t you know that?”1 before revealing his father was a prisoner at Dachau.

As a 2016 Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellow, I was fortunate to spend a month at the University of Florida studying their Baldwin Collection of historical children’s literature. My study topic emerged from my experience working as a school librarian, particularly my work at Buckhorn High School in Madison County, Alabama, a Gilder-Lehrman history high school that included an elective on the Great Wars.

During the associated study of the Holocaust, the students often asked what was known stateside about the atrocities being committed in Europe, especially as personal accounts from the liberating forces seemed to relay surprise at the brutality they discovered. I began to wonder how contemporary young people constructed the conflict intellectually and emotionally and, indeed, how much they might have known about the situation in Europe. It seemed a topic that might be best explored through the range of contemporary children’s literature about the war, and the Baldwin Collection holds the second-largest collection of historical children’s books in the country.

Sidney Lazarus envisions an ominously taloned bird in Nila Arah Mack’s Animal Allies (1942).

Sidney Lazarus envisions an ominously taloned bird in Nila Arah Mack’s Animal Allies (1942).

I began by isolating the books in the collection with the subject heading “World War II, 1939–1945” and looked exclusively at books published those same years to ensure I wasn’t getting a retrospective viewpoint. A handful of the titles in the collection were actually written for adults, and others seemed to have little to do with the war apart from having been produced under wartime guidelines for publishing or promoting the purchase of war bonds on their dust jackets. But there are some subtle indications of the national tenor.

One of the novels I originally discounted, The Shoo-Fly Pie by Mildred Jordan, depicts a Pennsylvania Dutch family in Berks County.2 Though no mention is explicitly made about the war, the prominent inclusion of a two-page glossary for the many German phrases peppered throughout the text might make its own subtle statement about the contributions of German-Americans in that region.3

I expanded my working list by executing the same search in WorldCat, as well as some titles I serendipitously ran across on flyleafs or in review sources. Because so many of the books published during the period were relatively pulpy and tended to use an enemy as an excuse for an action-packed plot, I focused on the more unique depictions of wartime, but only after spending several days reading Better Little Books and other popular career novels like Cherry Ames, Chief Nurse (1944), which finds the heroine in the South Pacific, Ann Bartlett at Bataan (1943), and Norma Kent of the WAACs (1943), set at Corregidor.

Several books tied in to the Captain Midnight radio serial or were spun off from Little Orphan Annie or Gasoline Alley comic strips. Other books which fit my criteria were relatively formulaic. Ten of the fifty-three books I identified initially were the products of prolific author Roy J. Snell, including The Ski Patrol (1940) with its Finnish setting, Wings for Victory (1942), about Pearl Harbor, Sparky Ames of the Ferry Command (1943), Secrets of Radar (1944) with a spunky female heroine, The Jet Plane Mystery (1944), and Punch Davis of the U.S. Aircraft Carrier (1945). But, as in the career books, Snell’s protagonists are necessarily older, of age to enlist, and are less indicative of childhood impressions during the period.

I found many of the more interesting pieces of contemporary literature for children about the war were created by European refugees, and, interestingly, these tend to have the most sympathy for the German people (and animals).

Nazi-occupied North Africa is the setting for Yussuf the Ostrich, Emery Kelen’s picturebook story of a once-wild ostrich who is a pet of Abou, one of the Arab children who captures him. “One day, many strange animals appear in the desert. Some of them had skins like rhinoceros hides. Others looked and sounded like noisy birds. Abou told Yussuf they were not animals at all, but American tanks and airplanes.”4

Yussuf, like the local children, is drawn to the American camp, and he volunteers his service.

“Now the general was a very intelligent man. He knew that animals and birds make very good soldiers. He remembered the brilliant records of many dogs and pigeons and he could see what an unusual bird Yussuf was.” The general enrolls the bird in the Signal Corps, “to carry important documents from one commander to another in the midst of battle.”5

“He ran so swiftly that the Nazi gunners grew dizzy trying to get to him,” but he is eventually captured and swallows his message. Despite not finding any incriminating evidence, “at last the exasperated Nazis threw him into prison.”6

The mix of full-color cartoons, which Kelen uses to illustrate the text, includes a range of other animals, including two small dachshunds. The dogs save Yussuf from execution, knowing “the Nazi general was very fat, very stupid, and very vain,” they convince the general to keep Yussuf alive for his plumage. Once Yussuf is saved, “his job was to take the dogs for a walk every day and to clean the general’s boots three times a day.”7 Later, the dogs help Yussuf again, barking as a distraction so he can escape to the American lines with secret plans. The subsequent press coverage of Yussuf’s heroism attracts the attention of his mother ostrich, and they are reunited.

Kelen was a Hungarian-born illustrator who served in the Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War. He and his partner Alois Derso immigrated to the United States in 1938, where their often-political work was featured in many prominent publications.8 In Yussuf’s story, his dog characters punctuate the realities of German life under the Nazi regime. “They were the Nazi general’s pets, but at heart they hated the general, all the other Nazis, and the swastikas which they forced him to wear.”9 This trope of German opposition to Hitler and his adherents recurs in the work of other European emigres.

A story of the German invasion of Holland, My Sister and I: The Diary of a Dutch Boy Refugee, was published by Harcourt Brace in 1941. Critic Paul Fussell, investigating the book decades after its publication, believed the book was not an authentic diary but was “brilliantly engineered in the months before Pearl Harbor by a rabidly pro-British interventionist,” editor Stanley Preston Young, then in the employ of Harcourt, calling it “The Brave Little Dutch Boy and the Wonderful British People Hoax.”10

Yet in the preface to My Sister and I, the “translator,” Mrs. Antoon Deventer, asserts its provenance, stating “Dirk van der Heide is a Dutch boy, from the outskirts of Rotterdam, who lived through the five-day blitzkrieg in Holland. He is twelve years old; a sturdy boy with straight taffy-colored hair that falls over his forehead, mild blue eyes, and a smile that quickly lights up his rather solemn face. His real name is not Dirk van der Heide and the names in the diary have all been changed to protect his family.”11

Tibor Gergely’s anthropomorphized anti-aircraft balloon is the hero of Margaret McConnell’s Bobo the Barrage Balloon (1943)

Tibor Gergely’s anthropomorphized anti-aircraft balloon is the hero of Margaret McConnell’s Bobo the Barrage Balloon (1943).

The author of My Sister and I makes no effort to portray German as internally conflicted. What De Jong called “war psychosis,” this author calls “war fright.”12 Dirk’s Uncle Pieter plays a Cassandra role, presciently warning about the German threat: “The German Nazis came on May 10th and surprised everyone except my father and Uncle Pieter:”

Uncle Pieter came today and talked a great deal. He says we are doing to get into the way in spite of everything and that a government official at his hotel said the Germans had moved many troops for Bremen and Dusseldorf to our frontiers. Father said Dat is geek [crazy] and Mother said please stop talking about the war. Uncle Pieter says no one worries and that’s the trouble. Look what happened to Denmark and Norway and all the others, he says.13

My Sister and I is full of colorful and historically accurate detail. Parachutists “had come down in the black robes and flat hats of Dutch priests.”14 The long relationship between Holland and Germany is emphasized when one of the invaders proves familiar:

Mijnvrouw Klaes went out to see the parachutist and came back very excited. She swore she knew him and that he was named Frederich Buehler and had grown up in Holland after the other war. This caused a great deal of talk and excitement and Uncle Pieter said, “the damned ungrateful swine. We took their war babies and fed them and this is what we get back.”15

Dirk describes the invasion in detail before declaring, “This war is terrible. It kills just about everybody. I’m glad we’re going to England where it will be quiet. I hope the Germans don’t come there the way they did in Holland.”16 Once they are in England, Holland surrenders to the Germans, beginning the occupation: “I just asked Uncle Pieter if we couldn’t go back now that the war is over and he said never, never could we go back there while the Germans were there. He says it is worse than death for Hollanders to live as slaves. I hope the Germans don’t make a slave out of Father. I don’t think they could. Father gets very angry and would not stand for it.”17 Uncle Pieter tells Dirk that the invasion of Holland is also a threat to England, and that they must try to get to America.

Dirk and his sister make it to the home of another uncle in New York City, but the account ends by emphasizing the increasing privations felt by the occupied Dutch:

Father is safe and back in Rotterdam. The letter we got from him had a Swiss stamp. It must not have been seen by the Germans, Uncle Klaas says. Father tells about what Holland is like now. There is not much food and many things like coffee and cocoa cannot be bought. The Germans have done many things. They have changed the names of the Royal Museum and anything with the word royal in it to National. No taxis are running. None of the Dutch can listen to anything but Spanish, Italian, and German programs without being fined 10,000 guilders and two years in prison. People have to stay home after 10 o’clock at night. The food is getting worse and worse.18

Another heavily pro-interventionist story, Animal Allies (1942) by Nila Arah Mack, makes use of Sidney Lazarus’s single-tone lithography to illustrate a heavy-handed allegory featuring a menagerie of animals in the Pleasant Forest. Their Greedy Gruber the Vulture, pictured with swastika-shaped talons, educates a force of vultures to do his bidding, cajoles the Viennese kittens and terrorizes the Czechoslovakian beavers, “And so—the vultures became fatter and fatter, while the small animals became thinner and thinner—and fewer and fewer.”19 Greedy Gruber is eventually joined in his efforts by Mussy the Gorilla and Sneaky Tokyo the Snake. The small animals appeal to Stoutheart the Lion and chief Sam Eagle, “who lived far off across the ocean, in the Land of the Open Sky,” “too far away to hear the cries of the little animals in the Pleasant Forest.”20

“In the meantime, Shaggy Sovietsky was hibernating, Kid Aussie was too far away to help, and Chang the Dragon was having troubles of his own with Sneaky Tokyo the Snake.”21 When both Shaggy Sovietsky and Stoutheart the Lion resist Gruber’s attacks, “it seemed as though the wide oceans everywhere were shrinking.”22

Pearl Harbor is reflected as “Sneaky Tokyo slid stealthily through the ocean. He robbed one of Chief Sam Eagle’s nests!”23 The eagle’s response sparks courage among the small fauna in the forest, the animals that had been holdouts (variously characterized as goats, mules, and cows) put on uniforms, and Stoutheart, Sovietsky, and Chang the dragon renew their efforts. With “victory for the animal allies,” the book closes with, “Love and laughter and music again for the whole world—forever and forever.”24

Promoting support for our allies is a central theme of contemporary children’s literature during World War II, resulting in books that must have looked like strange relics on library shelves in the midst of the Cold War. Promotion of citizen spying and guerilla warfare are at the heart of Young Fighters of the Soviets (1944).25 The novel opens with evacuation, Dmitri being sent to live with his grandmother in Moscow as Nazis approach his home in Belarus, his mother is leaving to be a Red Army nurse and his father has left with his regiment. His cousin Marfa from Leningrad joins him in Moscow, and they do some sightseeing before the Germans approach that city, the center of the rail system, with a pincer maneuver.

In the midst of the initial onslaught, Dmitri spots a beggar with an overly fancy accordion, which turns out to house a short-wave radio. Though he suffers frostbite from his pursuit of the spy, he is heartened by the Russian victories and the novel ends with celebration as “America has now declared war on the Nazis, too. America is our ally! America, with her industrial genius, and her great love of freedom! Yes—the peace-loving nations of the world will soon put an end to war forever!”26

In a parallel story, Dmitri’s friend Marko goes to hide in the woods, where he falls in with a partisan guerilla band, using stores of dynamite and ammunition hidden in the forest to delay the approaching Germans, who they hope the winter will starve out. “They have the tanks and guns and planes, but those things don’t count for much in the forest.”27 The band is led by the manager of a collective farm where Marko and his father, ethnic Gypsies, lived. Marko’s father is gone: “We don’t know what happened to him. Maybe they sent him to Germany as a slave.”28

Author Edelstadt establishes her qualifications for writing about the country in an author’s note:

When you read about a foreign land you have a right to know how much the author himself knows about it. And so I would like to give you this information about myself. The stories of old Russia were told to me by my mother who was born there. It was she who taught me the old songs and poems that are dear to every Russian. She remembers them still, although she has been a devoted American for nearly fifty years. The stories of new Russia are taken from my own memory of a four months’ visit to the Soviet Union some years ago.29

Edelstadt goes on to praise “the courageous deeds of Russia’s children,” saying, “even children have the opportunity to fight the cruel invader of their motherland.”30

The text has its moments of idyll in descriptions of birch trees, samovars, ballet, and museums, describing a society where ammunition factories have their own orchestras that perform special concerts when they meet their production quotas. The split between nostalgia for pastoral Russia and depiction of the industrial nature of the modern Soviet is apparent in the two very different illustration styles used by Florian. Folkloric motifs and brightly colored plates are used to depict the woods where Dmitri hides, while modernist etchings are used for Dmitri’s mother in her uniform and the Moscow street scenes. Like Kelen, Florian Kraner himself was an exiled Viennese artist who immigrated to the United States in 1935.31

Munro Leaf’s doctrinaire A War-time Handbook for Young Americans (1942) urges the youngest children to join in the war effort

Munro Leaf’s doctrinaire A War-time Handbook for Young Americans (1942) urges the youngest children to join in the war effort.

Another book about our Soviet allies, Timur and His Gang (1943) by beloved Russian author Arkady Gaidar, was first published in the Soviet Union where it was credited with sparking a Timurite movement, mobilizing “tens of thousands” of children to aid the families of the Red Army.32 Gaidar was killed in action before its 1943 US publication in translation by Zina Voynow. Scribner’s promoted this book alongside Dola de Jong’s The Level Land and Watling Green by Mollie Panter-Downes as “about our allies, how they lived before the war and what happened when the war came. Each is written by an outstanding author of the nationality of the particular country. Together they give a fine picture of children and courage in war-torn lands.”33

Timur’s story is set in a countryside village that is the summer home of Red Army commanders, where the children “mark” the homes under their protection and use military vernacular to describe their operations. Timur borrows a motorcycle without authorization to take his friend Jenya to see her father in Moscow while on leave. During their second summer together, the gang becomes more organized and begins drilling in formation. There is some earlier speculation about whether the war will come, but on June 22, 1941, a radio announcement interrupts a holiday celebration to assert, “today, at 4:00 o’clock in the morning, without any claim having been presented to the Soviet Union, without a declaration of war, German troops attacked our country.” Timur rallies his troops, telling them:

People are leaving for the front . . . so there is a lot of work to be done. Some of it will be just the same things we used to do, only now it won’t be play. There is a war on, now. You boys and girls are all nodding your heads and shouting “Tell us what to do! We’ll do anything.” But we’ll have to do what the defense corps needs done, and maybe it won’t all be fun. Maybe it will be weeding vegetables.34

The ways in which Timur and his gang help presages many of the wartime exigencies promoted in the home front American novels:

They were cheerfully doing the garden work they had despised before the war. Many of the girls, and even some of the boys, were helping to mind babies so their mothers could go shopping; and all the children were beginning to gather scrap. Already they had gathered up everything they could carry off easily, and they knew where all the big, heavy iron things were to be found. Now they were starting to rake the sides of the roads, and open fields, looking for bits of metal and rubber, and gathering brushwood for kindling.35

A final missive from Jenya’s father tells her that she must pledge “for the sake of all of us fighting at the front—that you far away in the rear will live honestly, modestly, study well, work stubbornly. Then, remembering this, even in the fiercest battles, I’ll be happy, proud and calm.”36

The same sort of “help” for the war effort Timur promotes is the central theme of A War-time Handbook for Young Americans (1942) by Munro Leaf, best known for his The Story of Ferdinand the Bull. A War-time Handbook for Young Americans, and another Leaf volume, My Book for America, are patriotism-informed manifestos prefiguring his 1946 didactic treatise on manners, How to Behave and Why: “Remember, it only takes one noisy, quarrelsome brat to spoil a home. Everybody had to work harder now that we are at war, and everybody needs to rest and relax more when not working. If there is one unpleasant person around he or she can upset everybody else’s peace and quiet.”37 The book ends with a blunt prohibition against “Faking Bullies” and “Rumor Spreaders.”38 Leaf’s reductive illustrations of stick people manage to be equally shrill.

Most of the wartime books focus on more practical actions, but even the youngest children were encouraged to help. In H. A. Rey’s Tommy Helps, Too (1943), mechanical pages “reveal” the result of home front war efforts through four double-page spreads. Tommy is depicted performing work like collecting scrap metal (transformed into a tank for Tommy’s soldier brother Pete), collecting books for his sailor brother Bill, and babysitting for his mother since his sister has joined the WAACs, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.39

Scribners features stories from Allied nations including Timur and His Gang, The Level Land, and Watling Green with serial heraldic covers

Scribners features stories from Allied nations including Timur and His Gang, The Level Land, and Watling Green with serial heraldic covers.

The collection of scrap is a recurring trope. In Nicodemus Helps Uncle Sam (1943), Inez Hogan’s young African American character Nicodemus is told by his grandfather to stop his pretend drilling to instead collect rubber and metal for the war effort. Nicodemus and his multicultural band sell the junk they scavenge to buy war bonds.40 Amid patriotic touches of red and blue, Hogan’s illustrations are now shocking to today’s readers in their reductive racial depictions, but her message promoting the collection of junk for the war effort echoes in a range of other books published during the period.

In another book from a series about a mischievous young boy, Augustus Drives a Jeep (1944), Le Grand’s character Augustus has a father away in the army. When an army jeep with a secret metal box is left by Colonel Baxley to his safekeeping, Augustus, along with his friend Jeems and Jeems’ Uncle Sam, goes through a series of small trials to return the vehicle to the officer who entrusted him with it. The minor deceits the threesome carry out along the way are justified as “We’re a-tryin’ to help our country.”41 The emphasis is on their role as “guards for their country’s secret inventions,” but there are hints at wartime: “We can’t stop at a gas station with this jeep. And besides, what are we going to use for gas ration tickets?”42 Eventually, a fire breaks out in the military hospital where Colonel Baxley is recuperating, and the jeep is used to pump water to extinguish it.

In Primrose Day (1942), another novel about an English girl evacuated to the United States, Merry Primrose Ramsay is a seven-year-old Londoner sent abroad to her aunt and uncle when her school closes for the duration. Merry is able to bring her dog on the ship. The novel is chiefly concerned with Merry’s experience as a fish out of water, “I wish I were home where people talked the way I do. Nobody laughs at me in England.”43 There are many misunderstandings due to language differences, and she mourns the lack of primroses in North America until her aunt finds a special garden filled with imported species. Eventually, three other English evacuees join her class, and her father is able to visit her over the holidays.

A more domestic British look at the effects of war, Watling Green (1943), was penned by Mollie Panter-Downes. According to the book’s flyleaf, “well known for her delightful ‘London Letter’ in the New Yorker [Panter-Downes] writes with humor and informality about a family that might be her own—for she has three children. We had a number of books about English children who came to America; this is the story of children who stayed home.”44

Like Panter-Downes’ New Yorker column, the novel is epistolary in format. Judy is a twelve-year-old in Sussex writing to her cousins in New York:

It’s quite a job for me to remember what it was like here before the war, because it seems to have been going on forever. But if you come to think of it, quite the biggest chunk of our lives hadn’t got any way in it, so I thought I ought to write something about that part first. It’s even harder for Jane than it is for me to remember. She was only four when it started, and she has forgotten the time when you could pile all the brown sugar you wanted on your porridge, really thick with a nice little puddle of cream in the middle, and when it didn’t matter if you came into a room at night and switched on the light without bothering to draw the curtain. The other day we were in London for a visit to the dentist, and Jane pointed to a lamp post and asked, “Mummie, What’s that for?” She thinks there’s always been a blackout, for ever and ever.45

Amid typically English middle class childhood pastimes as Pony Club, paper chases, and holidays in Cornwall, the war breaks out in 1939:

Jock and I knew there was probably going to be a war with the Germans, and of course, though we didn’t know what it would be like, Jane didn’t understand what would be happening, but she heard Nannie talking to Mrs. Boxall about Hitler, and she decided it would be a lovely name for her new black kitten. He luckily turned out to be a perfectly terrible character, and came to a bad end in a fight with Miss Spry’s old tabby tom.46

The day Poland is invaded, the village receives some additions from London, “labels tied on their wrist, with their new addresses on them, just as if they were brown paper parcels:”

Then we heard the word “evacuee” for the first time. I didn’t know what it meant, but Mummie explained that it looked as though the war was coming, and that our Government had arranged to send as many boys and girls as possible out of London and other big cities in case there were German air raids. They were all going to stay at people’s houses in the country until the war was over.47

As the war edges close, her parents reject the idea of sending their own children to safety:

Just at that time Paul and Alice’s mother, our Aunt Marion, cabled asking Mummie if she would send us children over to America to stay with them for the rest of the war. Mummie only told about it later, but she had an awful time wondering whether to send us or not. Then she thought of all the thousands of children who couldn’t possibly be sent, and would have to stay here, and she decided with Daddy that it would be best for us to stop and take our chances with them. She said that she thought we might be sorry later on, when we grew up, if we missed such a chunk of what was going to be important English history which would make you feel quite warm and proud to have lived through.48
Watching for Winkie (1942) provides an account of an Aberdeen boy’s pigeons, used by RAF to carry messages

Watching for Winkie (1942) provides an account of an Aberdeen boy’s pigeons, used by RAF to carry messages.

In another British wartime tale, pencil drawings of natural world, scenic Scottish landscape, gamboling birds, and machines in flight enliven Watching for Winkie (1942), a “ripped from the headlines” account of an Aberdeen boy’s pigeons, used by the forces to carry messages. The picturebook opens with: “Tommy MacIntosh started the day like many other days. He hurriedly dressed, gulped his breakfast, and ran down the narrow cobbled street to his work. An important job had to be done! It was a man’s job, but men were scarce these days. Britain was at war.”49

Tommy tells his father, “the tall man in the blue R.A.F. uniform,” that he wants to be a pilot, too, but his father stresses that Tommy is making his own contribution:

You know son, there are eighteen ground men to every pilot. The ground man’s job is just as important as my job, Tommy. We get into tight spots sometimes, the wireless is dead, and our one hope is the carrier pigeon. It’s up to you to keep ‘em flying or we wouldn’t have even that hope.
Thanks, Dad! I never thought of it that way. Every time I clean the cote I’ll just say to myself: “Tommy MacIntosh, you are a ground man. Your job is to keep ‘em flying. It’s up to you to do the messy job and do it cheerfully.”50

After a dogfight in the North Sea while offensive duty patrol off the coast of Norway, Tommy’s father and three other members of the crew are stranded on a raft. But they are saved by Winkie and Tommy’s knowledge of Winkie’s rate of flight. One of the crew tells him, “Her code number and your information of her flying speed, plus a faint S.O.S. helped the aerodrome navigator to where Winkie left the plane. She flew one hundred miles! A reconnaissance plane located your father and members of the crew. Later they were picked up by an R.A.F. rescue launch.” Tommy is feted for his hard work: “The squadron gave Tommy a rousing cheer as he accepted a bronze plaque with the figure of a tiny bird flying over the sea. Inscribed on the plaque was the squadron’s thanks to a gallant bird.”51

In his cultural history of the war years, Norman Longmate wrote that, in England, “the war was not a good time for books and most of the best war memoirs and novels were not published till several years later.”52 Nonetheless, two early British Carnegie Medalists are set in the early days of the war. The 1940 winner, Visitors from London (1940) by Kitty Barne, which was published stateside by Dodd, Mead and Co., deals with cultural conflicts between Londoners and those in the countryside, but doesn’t stretch much beyond recurring statements that they were “in a war.” In stark contrast, next year’s winner, Mary Treadgold’s We Couldn’t Leave Dinah (1941), plumbs the German occupation of nearby Channel Islands as well as exploring conditions behind both Hitler’s rise to power and its effects on the populace. Peter, a half-French, half-German refugee lectures the English children, “You are like everybody else,” he said, “Nobody knew anything about Germany. Not France nor England nor America nor the Great League of Nations. If they had known—thought a little harder, watched a little closer—there would have been no war.”53 Treadgold also uses the term “concentration camp,” something that tended to be termed elsewhere as “slave labor.”

Emery Kelen’s Yussuf the Ostrich (1943) is captured and put in charge of the Nazi commander’s Dachshunds

Emery Kelen’s Yussuf the Ostrich (1943) is captured and put in charge of the Nazi commander’s Dachshunds.

The examination of contemporary literature available to American children about the war proved more nuanced and pulled fewer punches than I’d imagined. I did not anticipate finding such a diaspora or European authors and illustrators eager to depict what was going on in Europe, or to find the names of death camps used in wartime children’s literature. The time I spent with the Baldwin Collection enabled me to appreciate that the extent to which the European atrocities were comprehended by an American populace, itself peppered with refugees, was not as small as so many subsequent narratives would assert. &


  1. Maria Gleit, Pierre Keeps Watch (New York: Scribner’s, 1944), 96.
  2. Mildred Jordan, The Shoo-Fly Pie (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).
  3. Ibid., 2–3.
  4. Emery Kelen, Yussuf the Ostrich (New York: Hyperion, 1943), n.p.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Emery Kelen,” in Contemporary Authors Online (Detroit: Gale, 2003), accessed October 3, 2016, Literature Resource Center.
  9. Kelen, Yussuf the Ostrich.
  10. Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 166.
  11. Dirk van der Heide, My Sister and I: The Diary of a Dutch Boy Refugee (New York: Harcourt, 1941), 3.
  12. Ibid., 14.
  13. Ibid., 19.
  14. Ibid., 34.
  15. Ibid., 47.
  16. Ibid., 74.
  17. Ibid., 79–80.
  18. Ibid., 92–93.
  19. Nila Arah Mack, Animal Allies (New York: Jules Messner, 1942), n.p.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Vera Edelstadt, Young Fighters of the Soviets (New York: Knopf, 1944).
  26. Ibid., 88.
  27. Ibid., 34.
  28. Ibid., 93.
  29. Ibid., 103.
  30. Ibid., 104.
  31. Zlata Fuss Phillips, “Florian Kraner,” German Children’s and Youth Literature in Exile 1933–1950: Biographies and Bibliographies. (Munchen: Saur Verlag, 2001), 82–83.
  32. Arkady Gaidar, Timur and His Gang (New York: Scribner’s, 1943), vi.
  33. Ibid., flyleaf.
  34. Ibid., 114–19.
  35. Ibid., 122.
  36. Ibid.,125
  37. Munro Leaf, A War-time Handbook for Young Americans (Philadelphia: Stokes, 1942), 16.
  38. Ibid., 62–63.
  39. H. A. Rey, Tommy Helps, Too (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943).
  40. Inez Hogan, Nicodemus Helps Uncle Sam (New York: Dutton, 1943).
  41. Le Grand Henderson, Augustus Drives a Jeep (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1944), 103.
  42. Ibid., 91–95.
  43. Carolyn Haywood, Primrose Day (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1942), 75.
  44. Mollie Panter-Downes, Watling Green (New York: Scribner’s, 1943), flyleaf.
  45. Ibid., 3.
  46. Ibid., 24.
  47. Ibid., 25–27.
  48. Ibid., 37–38.
  49. Theresa Kalab Smith, Watching for Winkie (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1942), n.p.
  50. Ibid., n.p.
  51. Ibid., n.p.
  52. Norman Longmate, How We Lived Then: A History of Everyday Life during the Second World War (London: Arrow,1971), 442.
  53. Mary Treadgold, We Couldn’t Leave Dinah (Oxford: Alden Press, 1941), 129.


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