January 20 2014

As the hundred year anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War approaches this coming August, I have been reviewing propaganda materials from the library collection for possible inclusion in forthcoming exhibitions commemorating the “Great War.” I have long been interested in children’s propaganda books and games, partly because of their reliance on illustrations to get their message across to younger audiences (and the parent who presumably purchased and read the books or played the games with their children). While the library holds a large number of children’s propaganda books published by all protagonists of the conflict, I am particularly drawn to the French publication Au lendemain de la victoire [In the Aftermath of Victory].

The illustration on the book’s paper cover is not particularly unusual. A young boy wearing a military cap empties a wheelbarrow load of wood block houses and trees in front of three young girls happily rebuilding a play village; a lone wooden French soldier stands at attention guarding the scene. While ruined houses can be seen, the adults in the background are planting a garden before a newly built (or unscathed) home decorated with French flags. The visual message is neither particularly unusual nor subtle.

The inside pages of the book, however, are what I find striking. On each of the colorful, illustrated pages, the book employs paper flaps printed on both sides that can be raised and lowered for a sobering “before and after” effect. Idyllic scenes of life in France before the war are, with the flip of a flap, transformed into nightmarish images of the horrors of war. While many propaganda books caricature or vilify enemy leaders, Germans rarely appear in this book—rather, the evil character of the enemy is established by the depictions of destruction wrought by the bombardment of the homes, schools, towns, and cathedrals of the peace-loving French citizens.
—Francis Xavier Luca, chief librarian, The Wolfsonian

Captions (click to enlarge):

Top:

Children’s book, Au lendemain de la victoire [In the Aftermath of Victory], c. 1918
Librairie Hachette, Paris, publisher
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Pamela K. Harer, XC2007.03.17.1

Bottom:

Children’s book, Au lendemain de la victoire [In the Aftermath of Victory], c. 1918
Librairie Hachette, Paris, publisher
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Pamela K. Harer, XC2007.03.17.1

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