- Border Crossings:Depictions of Canadian-American Relations in First World War Children’s Literature
Alan Richardson suggests that “the construction of childhood in an age of revolution and reform is neither a politically disinterested nor an ideologically neutral matter” (qtd. in Thacker and Webb 19). The same is true of much of the literature written for child readers during periods of political upheaval and, as Karin Westman observes, “during times of war . . . the ideological work of 'children’s literature' carries greater weight and has a wider reach” (216). Evidence of politics and ideology is found in children’s literature produced during the First World War, when many writers constructed children and childhood in ways that would suit wartime needs and actively cultivated a sense of patriotic duty and pro-war sentiment in young readers. This fostering of patriotism was often achieved by contrasting a nation with its enemies, and by measuring it against its allies, a practice that is evident in North American children’s literature from the First World War. This article will explore how Canada and the United States were represented by wartime children’s writers as part of an effort to ensure the allegiance of young readers to their respective nations, to cultivate particular notions of masculinity, and to promote good citizenship.
The works of children’s literature discussed in this article represent some of the many ways in which authors portrayed each of these nations. Canadian-American relations changed over the course of the war as each nation’s participation in the conflict developed and, consequently, literary depictions of these relations were neither uniform nor static. Prior to WWI, the relationship between the two countries was a topic of interest for many Canadian children’s writers. Some, seeing the larger and rapidly expanding nation to the south as an economic, political, and even a military threat, sought to cultivate anti-American sentiment in young readers. Others, believing [End Page 100] that Canada would prosper by developing its association with America, particularly by strengthening economic ties, presented it more favorably. WWI children’s literature shows that these competing views continued to circulate well into the war years and that America continued to be a subject of interest for Canadian children’s writers. Canadian writers utilized depictions of the United States to help construct an array of visions of Canadian national identity, which included highlighting the nation’s place within the British Empire, picturing Canada as part of a newly powerful North American alliance, and expressing a desire for greater independence from both Britain and the United States.
While Canadian writers often treated the United States as a subject of their writing, most American children’s authors paid little attention to Canada prior to 1914. If they did, they tended to either picture Canada as part of Britain, with little distinct identity of its own, or presented it as an extension of the United States.1 Following the outbreak of war, however, more Americans turned their attention to Canada, perhaps because Canadian military achievements made the nation a more visible presence, or perhaps simply as part of a general interest in the events of the war of which Canada was a part from the outset. Nevertheless, discussions of Canada in American children’s literature remained few relative to discussions of other major players in the war such as Britain and Germany. There has not been extensive critical attention paid to American children’s literature from this period, and where it has, the focus has not been on references to Canada. But depictions of Canadians and Canada in American wartime children’s literature, though not widespread, reveal a complexity of attitudes toward America’s involvement in the conflict, including divergent views about whether the United States should remain neutral and anxiety over whether allegiance to the nation was being weakened by the old-world ties of many of its citizens. The widespread belief that inculcating a sense of national identity and patriotism in the young is the best means by which to secure ongoing loyalty to the nation meant that children were seen as a crucial audience for lessons about citizenship and nationhood. Revisiting some...