Although we often think of children's literature as light and playful, many children's books contain propagandistic themes and illustrations. Such books utilize racist stereotypes, religious and political innuendo as well as moral tales to indoctrinate and influence children at a young age. These books reflect and provide insight into cultural norms and mores contemporary to the book and document the change in various dominant social, cultural, political, and religious ideologies overtime.
Political children's books, such as the two Spanish Civil War books and the miniature Nazi book displayed below, extol nationalist agendas, and attempt to gain the support of children for the cause. Des Fuhrers is one of numerous miniature button books printed by the Nazi government held in Special Collections. These "button books" were given to children as a reward for their work, and contained a small loop of string so that the book could be looped through a button and worn and displayed on their coats. Stories of Colonial Children likewise imposes a nationalistic history on its readers, which fails to provide context about colonial settlement on Native American lands, and paints Native Americans as an excessively violent people.
Racial stereotypes are also prevalent in many picture books and children's stories. Books such as The Ten Little Niggers, Little Black Sambo, Mule Twins, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog, and several of the Tintin stories use stereotypes, knowingly or unknowingly, to condition children to retain similar beliefs. Both Ten Little Niggers and Tintin's The Crab with the Golden Claws use overtly racist language as well as stereotypical illustrations. In Mule Twins, the main character, an African American child, employs an antiquated and ignorant cadence that suggests a stereotypical backwardness.
Besides racial and political innuendo, many children's books also impart certain morals and behavioral standards. For example, Freaks and Frolics for Little Girls advises girls on proper behavior, and what happens if they do not adhere to various moral and behavioral standards. Several of the stories in the book, such as Tomboy Kate, also emphasize certain gender roles in an effort to enforce societal norms.
Although you might not consider these stories appropriate to read to your children, these books document social, political, and cultural trends and norms and are invaluable resources for the study of child development, nationalist propaganda, and racist stereotypes in Western culture. To view more children's literature held in Special Collections, visit our Children's Literature Research Guide.