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Making Americans

Children's Literature from 1930 to 1960

Gary D. Schmidt

Publication Year: 2013

American children need books that draw on their own history and circumstances, not just the classic European fairy tales. They need books that enlist them in the great democratic experiment that is the United States. These were the beliefs of many of the authors, illustrators, editors, librarians, and teachers who expanded and transformed children’s book publishing between the 1930s and the 1960s.

Although some later critics have argued that the books published in this era offered a vision of a safe, secure, simple world without injustice or unhappy endings, Gary D. Schmidt shows that the progressive political agenda shared by many Americans who wrote, illustrated, published, and taught children’s books had a powerful effect. Authors like James Daugherty, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lois Lenski, Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, Virginia Lee Burton, Robert McCloskey, and many others addressed directly and indirectly the major social issues of a turbulent time: racism, immigration and assimilation, sexism, poverty, the Great Depression, World War II, the atomic bomb, and the threat of a global cold war.

The central concern that many children’s book authors and illustrators wrestled with was the meaning of America and democracy itself, especially the tension between individual freedoms and community ties. That process produced a flood of books focused on the American experience and intent on defining it in terms of progress toward inclusivity and social justice. Again and again, children’s books addressed racial discrimination and segregation, gender roles, class differences, the fate of Native Americans, immigration and assimilation, war, and the role of the United States in the world. Fiction and nonfiction for children urged them to see these issues as theirs to understand, and in some ways, theirs to resolve. Making Americans is a study of a time when the authors and illustrators of children’s books consciously set their eyes on national and international sights, with the hope of bringing the next generation into a sense of full citizenship.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xxviii

In the mid-1920s, Olive Beaupré Miller founded a private publishing company called the Book House for Children; it produced, among other items, My Bookhouse— six volumes— and My Travelship— three volumes —ingeniously packaged together in a little wooden house, painted orange and gray, with blue windows and two chimneys. My Travelship collected...

Part 1. Defining America as the Pioneer Nation, 1930–1940

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1. Imagining the American Democracy: Self-Reliance and Social Cooperation

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pp. 3-32

In his study Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood (2004), Steven Mintz describes the effects of the Great Depression on American families, which faced an unprecedented collapse. By the end of the Depression, 14 percent unemployment was common; in some cities, unemployment was over 50 percent. Average income was halved as jobs disappeared or became part-time. Homes that had seemed...

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2. James Daugherty: The Democracy of the American Pioneer

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pp. 33-58

When the English illustrator Leslie Brooke died in early 1941, James Daugherty wrote an open letter of farewell to him that was published in the May–June issue of Horn Book. He spoke of Brooke’s “rich and gentle spirit,” the “whimsy” and “cavortings” of his illustrations, and the “shy and subtle essence of the English spirit” out of which he drew. Daugherty wrote the letter in the context of the London Blitz and only...

Part 2. Otherness within a Democracy, 1930–1955

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3. Defining American Democracy: Normalizing Inclusion

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pp. 61-94

The pioneer America of James Daugherty and Laura Ingalls Wilder is an abundant and vast and free America, but it is not an America in which liberty and resources are allotted with equity— a fact to which Wilder and Daugherty alluded to with ambivalence. They struggled with depicting stories outside the majority story, and their struggles...

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4. The Bobbs-Merrill Childhood of Famous Americans Series: Quiet Challenges to the Mythic Narrative of the American Dream

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pp. 95-122

In November 1952 Douglass Adair wrote a piece for the New York Times Book Review in praise of “a new literary genre that captures the interest of even my children, who don’t particularly like books.” The genre Adair found so compelling was “the fictionalized biography, wherein imaginary episodes reveal the character of a historic person”...

Part 3. American Children’s Literature and World War II, 1940–1945

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5. Adapting American Democracy: Responding to the Urgencies of War

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pp. 125-153

In February 1941, ten months before America’s entry into World War II, Siddie Joe Johnson wrote an article for the Library Journal exploring trends she had observed as a librarian in Texas, watching children choose books during a time of international stress: “Americanization, citizenship, patriotism, democracy. More and more books are being...

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6. Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire: America as the Land of Opportunity

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pp. 154-172

In the middle of World War II, Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire crafted Wings for Per (1944), based on the experiences of Ingri’s oldest nephew. In this picture book, Per is a Norwegian boy who lives on a farm set high in steep mountains. The farm had been built there to avoid plundering enemies and to keep the inhabitants of the country...

Part 4. Positioning the American Democracy Globally, 1945–1960

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7. Globalizing American Democracy: Exporting the American Heritage

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pp. 175-195

In 1949 James Cloyd Bowman, a folklorist who had been adapting American folklore for children for two decades, spoke to the American Library Association about his work. It was a rambling talk; he was light, though earnest— until the conclusion, when Bowman suddenly shifted his tone and spoke very seriously about what he discerned as...

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8. Virginia Lee Burton and Robert McCloskey: (In)Security in America

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pp. 196-226

The Caldecott Medal for 1943 was awarded to Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House (1942). Since travel restrictions on civilians were in place, the American Library Association canceled its annual convention and offered the awards instead at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City on Flag Day, June 14. There, Anne Carroll Moore called The Little House “an honest-to-goodness American picture book,” presumably...


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pp. 227-232


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pp. 233-234


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pp. 235-248


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pp. 249-282


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pp. 283-290

E-ISBN-13: 9781609382216
E-ISBN-10: 1609382218
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381929
Print-ISBN-10: 1609381920

Page Count: 318
Illustrations: 2 illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: paper

OCLC Number: 862077756
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Making Americans

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Subject Headings

  • Johnson, Crockett, -- 1906-1975.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
  • Democracy in literature.
  • Children's literature -- Publishing -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Children -- Books and reading -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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