Learning from the Left: Children's Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States

Learning from the Left: Children's Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States

Learning from the Left: Children's Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States

Learning from the Left: Children's Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States

Synopsis

At the height of the Cold War, dozens of radical and progressive writers, illustrators, editors, librarians, booksellers, and teachers cooperated to create and disseminate children's books that challenged the status quo. Learning from the Left provides the first historic overview of their work. Spanning from the 1920s, when both children's book publishing and American Communism were becoming significant on the American scene, to the late 1960s, when youth who had been raised on many of the books in this study unequivocally rejected the values of the Cold War, Learning from the Left shows how "radical" values and ideas that have now become mainstream (including cooperation, interracial friendship, critical thinking, the dignity of labor, feminism, and the history of marginalized people), were communicated to children in repressive times. A range of popular and critically acclaimed children's books, many by former teachers and others who had been blacklisted because of their political beliefs, made commonplace the ideas that McCarthyism tended to call "subversive." These books, about history, science, and contemporary social conditions-as well as imaginative works, science fiction, and popular girls' mystery series-were readily available to children: most could be found in public and school libraries, and some could even be purchased in classrooms through book clubs that catered to educational audiences. Drawing upon extensive interviews, archival research, and hundreds of children's books published from the 1920s through the 1970s, Learning from the Left offers a history of the children's book in light of the history of the history of the Left, and a new perspective on the links between the Old Left of the 1930s and the New Left of the 1960s.

Excerpt

This is a study of children's literature and the Left in the mid-twentieth century. It is a work of history as well as a work of literary analysis, and its varied scope undoubtedly reflects my interdisciplinary training in American Studies, which encourages scholars to connect seemingly disparate phenomena, events, artifacts, and ways of thinking. in addition to hundreds of children's books, my sources include oral histories; the papers of authors, illustrators, and editors; and the records of institutions ranging from publishing houses to the Child Study Association and the Jefferson School of Social Science. in addition, I have drawn upon government documents, such as the transcripts of legislative hearings and fbi files; radical periodicals; and journals in the fields of education, children's literature, library science, and publishing. To gain a better sense of context, I have looked at advertisements, textbooks, political campaign materials, newspapers, films, trade journals, and popular periodicals from the postwar period; I have listened to children's records; and I have studied childrearing manuals and advice books. But what is foregrounded here are children's books and their authors.

Throughout the process, I have greatly benefited from existing scholarship in a range of fields, and I have also shamelessly solicited the expertise, advice, and good will of an enormous number of people. Listing all the people to whom I owe a debt would be impossible, but more than a few people deserve mention. in many ways, this book represents a collective effort, although I take all of the credit for its weaknesses.

My greatest debt goes to the women and men who shared their personal stories—or information about their family members—with me, in letters, over the telephone, and in long conversations in their own homes, often over homemade meals. These include Hank Abrashkin, Leone Adelson, Irving Adler, Rose Agree, Betty Bacon, Jennifer Charnofsky, Ernest Crichlow, Howard Fast, Stanley Faulkner, Gella Schweid Fishman, Marge Frantz, Joan Goldfrank, Lewis Goldfrank, Barbara Granick, Steve Granick, Tony Hiss, Ed Hoke, Dahlov Ipcar, Nancy Larrick, Meridel Le Sueur, Faith Lindsay, Ann McGovern, Milton Meltzer, Jonathan Moore, Minne Motz, Elsie Nydorf, Lilian Moore Reavin, Herman Schneider, Nina Schneider, Pete Seeger, Miriam Sherman, Jeanne Steig, Dorothy Sterling, Vicky Williams, and Rose Wyler. Mary Elting Folsom, who put me up several times (once along with two cats and my husband, as we were driv-

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