Most modern children’s books focus on messages of sharing and caring, often through the lens of some sort of cuddly-wuddly kid-friendly cartoon animal. A hundred years ago, however, children’s literature was quite different.
In conjunction with the approaching 100-year anniversary of the First World War, Brock University professor Lissa Paul is investigating themes in early 20th century children’s literature. According to Paul’s studies, much of the writing geared towards children in that time period focused on encouraging them to prepare for war.
For example, popular kids materials at the time included books like An ABC for Baby Patriots, in which B stands for battles.
Paul suggests the promotion of war and fighting for king and country was an integral part of pre-war culture as a tool for retraining children’s minds against natural instinctual and religious hesitations towards killing others. By investigating the depth and impact of pre-World War I children’s literature, Paul hopes to gain a better understanding of how youth culture can impact future behaviors. “If we’re ever going to stop war, we have to understand what encourages people to fight,” Paul says.
Paul will use her research to contribute to the upcoming Canadian conference studying pre-war children’s literature, which she is organizing. The Canadian conference will be one part of a three-part series sponsored by the UK’s Leverhulme Trust.