Thursday, May 31, 2012

Toys Go To War: World War II Military Toys, Games, Puzzles and Books by Jack Matthews

My original interest in World War II began with children's books when I was working on a project about books published in the 1930s and 1940s.  For that project, the stories all had to be written during that time period and had to be about how the war impacted the lives young people for young readers.  Pretty much the same perimeters as my blog.  In fact, I called this blog The Children's War because the Second World War impacted the lives of children more than any other modern war ever had.  Millions of people, including children, were moved through evacuations, resettlement or transported to concentration camps right from the beginning and in some cases, even before the war began.

Some of my vintage WWII books 
I managed to amass a large collection of books to meet my criteria from England, Germany and the United States.   But, given my love of pop culture, it didn't take long for my  interest to spread into other areas.  Before I knew it, I was looking at comic books, rationing, knitting, and, inevitably, toys that were also part of the experience of young people during the war.

So I sent for a copy of Toys Go To War, not because I wanted to start another collection, the books were quite enough, and besides that, I couldn't afford to think about toys financially and there simply wasn't room for that in my house.  So I content myself with looking through the pages of Jack Matthews Toys Go To War.
Here is a wonderful book that gives a pictorial, often anecdotal history of World War II toys, followed by chapters devoted to various kinds of toys.  The chapters are divided by the kinds of toys or pastimes under discussion.  There are chapters on puzzles and books, wooden toys, toys obtained by collecting cereal boxtops and toys that are put together by the owner, among others.  And one example of the kinds of anecdotes included is the one that tells how God Bless America is substituted for Gesundheit whenever someone sneezed, because Gesundheit was an enemy word.

Since most factories were turned over to war production, and metals, rubber and paper used for making necessary munitions, there wouldn't seem to be much left for childhood entertainments.  And yet, toys and games were produced, most of which were designed to instill/reinforce a sense of patriotism in kids.  Cardboard planes, tanks and even soldiers could be found under a Christmas tree, paper dolls became even more popular then previously and books were printed according to the war economy (which means that today the pages are quite browned and brittle - some of an older cousins old hand-me-down Nancy Drew books are from this time period and can't even be opened anymore with extensive damage to the pages.)

This is a great book if you are interested in what kids played with or even how kids were propagandized into supporting the war.  There is a small valuation guide at the back if you might want to start collecting, but I think the main purpose of this book is just to see what kids played with during this most difficult of times and maybe even a walk down memory lane for the author.  Matthews also includes, as you will see, some of the German games that are really not so very different from the games produced for American and British children (German books for boys and girls are not so very different either.  They were nothing like I expected them to be.  For the most part, they were just patriotic stories, but not the kind of virulent anti-Semitism I had expected.)

Some example of what can be found in Toys Go To War:
Wartime Wedding Paper Dolls

Books for Boys and Girls

Bubble Gum Cards, Paper Doll Military Clothes

Soldier Paper Cut Outs for Boys

Patriotic Puzzles
Games for German Children
The book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library.


  1. Wonderful article. I must show it to Little M. By the way, all my Nancy Drew books and even Sweet Valley High (not that old!) pretty much rotted

    1. It is a shame that those old editons were printed on such cheap paper they don't last. My later Nancy's are fine, as are my Cherry Ames and Bobbsey Twins. Better paper, I guess.

  2. Oh wow! I can see this is a great resource. Bet I would love browsing through your bookshelves.

    1. This is a great resource and I have used it many times for many reasons. My bookshelves are getting smaller as I have been donating a lot of books to my local NYPL branch to sell. But I keep the old books, the reference books and things like that, so you might still like the browsing.

  3. Are those some Cherry Ames books that I see?
    A few years back, my mom and I helped put together a "children's reading room" for an American wars exhibit at a local history museum. Looking through the American Girls' "Molly's War" book, we noticed the children's book series that were popular then and actually found some of the books at the nearest used book store. I now have several Cherry Ames books, as well as a Vickie Barr and two WWI-era novels for boys...I was surprised at how many are actually set up as mysteries. Given my obsession at the time with Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, though, I appreciated it.

    We visited an antique store a couple weeks ago that had what looked like practically the entire Cherry Ames series for sale...I think the vendor was asking at least $8 for each book, though, so it would have been impractical to buy the whole set.

    1. Yes, those are definitely Cherry Ames, as least the ones that escaped my mother's eye when she was handing books down to my cousin (who recently returned one Cherry Ames and one Nancy Drew) Have you looked on ebay for cheaper copies of Cherry Ames.

      We had the Molly books, too. Molly was my daughter's favortie Amercian Girl and I still have some of her old books around and the doll and the clothes. Those books were great for teaching kids about the different time periods they covered.

  4. Your shelves look so tempting – I would love a rummage! Just thinking about sitting down with a mug of tea and going through them is enough to make my heart beat faster! Lovely post, thank you.