One of the materials I love most are old textbooks used in the early grades of elementary school -- I remember the ones I had in first and second grade. Recently, as I flipped through the various readers I have, I noticed that the book published in 1940 is different from the ones published in the 50s and 60s (Along the Way, by Gertrude Hildreth). The later ones show a happy world where everyone grins constantly, gifts shower down, and the most serious calamity is dog Flip crushing kitty Frisky's toy mouse.
But in the war-time reader, the characters live in a constant state of fear. Barns catch fire, dogs are imprisoned in neighbors' homes with nothing to eat, and Mr. Turkey faces a grim destiny.
Probably the most disturbing story involves a Gingerbread man. Young Mary dreams about all kinds of cookies -- "brownie cookies! Clown cookies! Animal cookies!" But the one she likes best is Gingerbread man. Maybe too much:
...I like my Gingerbread Cooky. I like his funny cooky head. I like his funny cooky hat. I like the way he laughs. I think I will eat him."When he hears Mary's plan, Gingerbread man stops laughing and starts screaming. He screams, "What can I do?" For pages, Mary subjects her cookie to mental torture, threatening to eat his head, then his hands. Poor guy. (Spoiler alert -- Mary eventually reconsiders and lets Gingerbread man live.)
I wonder if the tone of the book reflects the fear and anxiety of life during war? Or the aftereffects of the Depression? Can you imagine such a story being read in schools today?
BTW, here are some of the things I've made from my Readers: