Children's Books 1940-1949
Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt
Published in 1940 by Simon And Schuster, Pat the Bunny was one of the first interactive books for children. Written by Dorothy Kunhardt for her 3 year old daughter, the book involved “touchy feely” activities for very young children like patting the bunny’s fur and feeling daddy’s scratchy beard. A successful children’s author, Kunhardt wrote 50 books but Pat the Bunny was by far the most popular, selling over 6 million copies and making it the 6th best-selling children’s book ever. The first edition included a squeaky ball that was replaced by buttons in later editions because it often malfunctioned, and a mirror which was replaced by scented flowers in later editions. Today, original copies of Pat the Bunny are among the rarest of all picture books.
Curious George by H.A. Rey
Curious George was created by the husband and wife team of Margaret and Hans Rey, a German-Jewish couple that relocated first to Brazil then to Paris during the Nazi occupation of Germany. As the Nazis invaded France in June 1940, the couple fled on handmade bicycles with the manuscript and artwork for what would become Curious George. The Reys eventually landed in New York and by 1941 Houghton Mifflin had published the first of many Curious George books, with seven titles written by Margaret and Hans. Authorship was initially only credited to Hans as the publisher felt there were too many children’s books by female authors.
The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey
The eighth book of the original twelve Little Golden Books first published by Simon & Schuster in 1942, The Pokey Little Puppy is the best-selling children’s book of all time with over 15 million copies sold worldwide. Originally 25 cents, the first edition, first printings are rare. The author, Janette Sebring Lowrey, penned dozens of other books aimed at children and young adults from the 1930s to the 1970s but lived in relative obscurity in Texas throughout her 92-year life.
Five On A Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
Although there was a serious paper shortage in England due to the War, some of the major children's authors were still published if they were sure to sell. A perfect example is Enid Blyton's first book featuring The Famous Five, Five On A Treasure Island. Other Blyton series that appeared in the 1940s were the Malory Towers, Naughtiest Girl, Secret Seven, and St. Clare’s.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
At the outbreak of WWII in 1940, Saint-Exupéry and his wife, Salvadoran writer and artist Consuelo Suncin, fled Nazi-occupied France. Saint-Exupéry spent 27 months in New York, and while working to push the United States to join the war against Nazi Germany he also wrote three of his most famous works. The Little Prince, a poetic tale self-illustrated with watercolors, was published in 1943 by Reynal & Hitchcock in New York City. The first English American edition, published during the war, is the only edition available signed by the author, who disappeared during a flying mission in France in 1944. As of April 2017, The Little Prince has been translated into 300 different languages, making it the most translated (non-religious) text in the world.
Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field
This Christian prayer book for children, illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones, was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1945. First editions will have a $1.50 price stamp and no Caldecott medal on the jacket. Although it is narrated by a little girl, this book reflects children as a whole; their love of God, and gentleness to humanity. Author Rachel Field had previously won a Newbery Award for her book 1929 book Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. Field died at the age of 47 following a surgery two years before Prayer for a Child was published.
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
The Carrot Seed, published by Scholastic in 1945, was one of the most picture-focused books with minimal text (101 words) at the time. It tells the story of a little boy who plants a carrot seed and dutifully cares for it, although he receives much skepticism from others that it will grow. The carrot does grow, and it grows so large that it fills up a wheelbarrow. This book has been in continuous print since publication.
The Little Island by Golden MacDonald
Written by Margaret Wise Brown under the pseudonym Golden MacDonald, The Little Island won the Caldecott Award in 1947. This story is about a little island that changes through the seasons and a kitten who visits but doesn’t understand how the island is tied to the rest of the world. A wise fish explains to the kitten that the land extends under the ocean and everything is linked together.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
There are multiple reasons that Goodnight Moon, first published in 1947 by Harper & Brothers, is a classic children’s book. The story is a soothing lullaby of repetition, saying goodnight to ordinary objects throughout the room. The simple and comforting illustrations of the green room, along with the moon making its way down through the sky outside the window, gets better every hundredth time you read it to your little one. Goodnight Moon was initially a slow seller with only about 1,500 copies sold by 1950, but it grew to sell 20,000 copies a year by 1970. Today, this children’s classic sells more than 800,000 copies a year, with over 48 million copies total sold.
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Blueberries for Sal was first published by Viking in 1948 and was awarded the Caldecott Honor for picture books in 1949. It tells the story of a little girl named Sal and her mother as they go out into the country to pick blueberries for winter. While out picking they get mixed up with a mother bear and her cub who are eating berries for the winter on the same hill. Set in a small town in Maine, this picture book is illustrated with block prints using a single dark blue color. Sal, with her short hair and pants, was not the typical 1940s storybook stereotype of a little girl in a pinafore and pigtails, which gave her the ability to appeal to a wide audience of curious and adventure-loving kids.
Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi
Song of the Swallows is a picture book by the Italian-American author and illustrator Leo Politi, whose works often focused on cultural diversity. It won the Caldecott Award in 1950. Politi was born in Fresno, California in 1908, but grew up in Italy, returning to California at the age of 22. Song of the Swallows tells the story of a young boy, Juan, who is captivated by the yearly return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano as it is explained to him by the old man Julian who is the bell ringer at the Mission. The book includes song lyrics to “La Golondrina,” a song Politi composed about the swallows, as well as Spanish phrases throughout.
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Author Bio: Amy C. Manikowski is a writer, bookseller, trail-diverger, history buff, and pitbull lover. She graduated from Chatham University with an MFA a while ago, and after wandering aimlessly settled in Asheville NC.