War Propaganda in Children’s and Juveniles’ Books

Title page: Otto Friedrich, Hans der Flieger
Otto Friedrich, Hans the Pilot, Title page, 1916
German National Library, First World War Collection, signature: 1916 B 9044

War Pro­pa­gan­da in Chil­dren’s and Ju­ve­niles’ Books

Blue coats, red trousers. Hit the guys! They are Frenchmen. Short skirts, bare knees. It’s the Scots, so hit them too.

Adolf Holst, In Enemy Territory, ca. 1914

As well as at school, the auxiliary aid services on the home front, and the paramilitary exercises of youth clubs, children and adolescents were also manipulated by propaganda in their free time by a wide range of recreational literature, which presented the war as a great adventure and a test of manliness. 

Colouring books for infants presented the children with enemy figures. Reworked fairy tale books, such as the Wartime Slovenly Peter presented the enemies of the Central Axis as bloodthirsty, envious and cowardly. Reading books for boys told of juvenile volunteers who did everything to get to the front, and of others who had to stay at home and place all their effort into work for the community. 

Girls were shown gender roles in juvenile literature that had already begun to be questioned prior to the war: as adolescents and young women they were expected to accept the loss of male family members uncomplainingly and with pride, and to contribute to the success of the war through work. 

In addition the propagandists hoped to reach the parents via the children. Children were expected to bring propagandist messages into their family home and to convince the adults around them to invest in war bonds, for example. Books such as Wartime Slovenly Peter or the Lustige Kriegsbilderbuch - Funny War Picture Book had texts that accompanied the illustrations, which were directed at adults, who in turn had to explain them to the little readers. By these means, parents were kept abreast constantly of the ongoing content of German propaganda.