11 November, 2008

War Bonds and Book Jackets

A recent gift to the Children's Literature Interdisciplinary Center, CLIC, included numerous sets of classic mystery series such as Ruth Fielding, Penny Nichols, Kay Tracy and of course, Nancy Drew. Written as part of the Sratemeyer Syndicate, it is common knowledge that all these series books were written under pen names. Some of the books have marvelous book jackets which adds to their value. The pictures of lovely, svelte young women who are peeking behind trees or or holding flashlights towards a dark stairway draw in the reader - as skillful cover art has done through the ages.

In reviewing the gift, I see that most of the jackets have back covers that list other titles in the series or talk about the publisher. However, one particular jacket, When the Key Turned, stirred my curiosity when I noticed an advertisement to buy War Bonds.

The text reads:
Books have always been the priceless heritage of a free people. When a new volume has been added to our shelves, it simply means that democracy and all it stands for is still at work.
Take away our books, and we become slaves, unknown and unknowing.
They BURNED the books in that dark land of oppression and cast into the flames not only words of beauty and knowledge, but a symbol of liberty: Man's right to read the books of his choice.
We must never let that happen here!
Buy War Bonds and Stamps Now so that we and our children may continue to enjoy the blessings of freedom, now and forever."

So, today on Veteran's Day I am wondering about the mass marketing of war bonds. What a remarkable and inspiring statement! This passage seems targeted for parents, but the teenagers reading the book must have read the message as well, just as they read the marketing campaign on milk cartons and billboards. Adventure and mystery stories seem like a natural place to inspire resistance against the forces of evil and oppression. For a young avid reader, what greater crime could exist than the burning of books?

I want to know even more about the strategies behind the war bond campaign, or just more about what kind of all out effort lands this kind of passionate text on the back of a teenage mystery novel. I found a glimpse of an answer in an article by Ralph Haswell Lutz. Written in 1933, Lutz gives an overview of propaganda campaigns during World War I and through the early 1930s. It is a bibliographic article that is a treasure trove for anyone interested in exploring resources that were authored during this period. War propaganda and national public opinion is examined in Germany, France, Italy and England. At one point, Lutz quotes a translation from a German writer, Friedrich Schönemann on the phenomenon of successful campaigns. Schönemann asserts that “no nation can successfully make propaganda in its best sense that is not optimistic about its future.” Here is the aspect of the war bond campaign that makes the connection for me regarding the hopes and dreams of youth. There is a future full of possibility and goodness will prevail over evil. Here is the complete citation for this article:
Lutz, R. H. (1933). Studies of world war propaganda, 1914-33. The Journal of Modern History, 5(4), 496-516.

I plan to enlarge this book jacket and post it in our children's literature reading area. I will do this not only because the statement itself is so intriguing and provocative, but because this advertisement demonstrates so well the profound, but often unrecognized, intersection between children's literature and broad societal trends.

One of the best books that I have found on the war bond drive is Pledging Allegiance: American Identity and the Bond Drive of World War II by Lawrence R. Samuel. Published by the Smithsonian Institution Press, the book contains documentation and photos from the National Archives.

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