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Saturday, 29 August 2009

World War 2 Children's Fiction

It has been a long term aim for me to write a book about children's fiction written in or around the second world war, so to find someone else has done this is actually a relief. Owen Dudley Edwards, of Edinburgh University, has written British Children's Fiction in the Second World War, published by Edinburgh University Press. At 744 pages, it is a thorough job. It strikes me that this task could only be achieved by someone with long term access to a copyright library, since the books and comics are both difficult to find and if available very expensive. I have in excess of 500, or about a quarter of the works referred to. This means that I can make sense of his argument, which is dense with many allusions to a wide range of works: I wonder whether his flow would be so clear to someone without this depth of knowledge. The existence of this book will doubtless save me money. I shall draw on my own knowledge of the works from this period to comment, expand and expound. Despite the size of the tome, sometimes a wealth of interest is hidden behind a sentence and a footnote, such as footnote 31 of the first chapter, about stories of refugees from mainland Europe early in the war, and particularly Jewish refugees. There are gaps, some of which I will fill. For example, David Severn, first book 1942 (Rick Afire!). The index gives no mention, except to say that Sir Stanley Unwin was 'Severn's father' (p.17) which is not stated on page 17. I will watch out for him (an account of the cricket match in Waggon for Five (1944) is discussed on p. 470, indexed under Unwin). Another gap is Peter Dawlish (James Lennox Kerr). They just happen to be two writers I am interested in.

The chapter design is thematic:
1. Issues in children's fiction up to 1940, focussing on a George Orwell/Frank Richards row.
2. Rations and Quislings.
3. Evacuees and Gurus
4. Women and Fathers.
5. Officials and Genteelmen
6. God's Things and Others
7. Identity, Authority and Imagination.
8. Gender.
9. Class.
10. Race

This is an investigative history work, which happens to focus on children's literature. The author has set himself an enormous task, and generally has done a very good job. This blog will return to review details of his argument from time to time.
Postscript. Adding this after reading three quarters of the book. It is brilliant, insightful, very dense. We agree on so many things. There are gaps, but only because an exhaustive account of these years is quite impossible.


  1. I found your book review (of sorts) to be very enticing. Definitely will take a look at it. But one question - does it feature and maybe discuss Rupert the Bear, whom you previously (and very interestingly) reported on?

  2. Hi, It was not a book review but a blog. I do reviews differently. No, Owen does not deal with Rupert.