Ballad for American Children

Julia L. Mickenberg

in Learning from the Left

Published in print November 2005 | ISBN: 9780195152807
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199788903 | DOI:
 Ballad for American Children

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Beginning with Meridel Le Sueur's River Road: A Story of Abraham Lincoln, this chapter examines children's literature, primarily from the 1940s and 1950s, which employed history, folklore, and American tradition toward a project of “leftist civic education”. Radicals both rewrote master narratives to emphasize a working-class perspective, and also recovered the stories of marginalized people, particularly members of the working class, women, and African Americans. Ironically, by creating markets for children's books dealing with American history and life, civic education programs and other school initiatives usually designed to boost children's patriotism fostered the production of books that used the past to criticize conditions in the present. The chapter explores the traditional association between the Left and folklore as it played out in children's literature. Finally, using biographies of black women by Dorothy Sterling, Ann Petry, Emma Gelders Sterne, and Shirley Graham, it traces leftist concern with African Americans and with women, as these played out in historical works for children.

Keywords: history; folklore; Dorothy Sterling; Ann Petry; Emma Gelders Sterne. Shirley Graham; civic education; African Americans; biography

Chapter.  18624 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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