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Hidden messages


In Nazi Germany in the 1930s and '40s, Adolf Hitler wanted children to hate Jewish people as much as he and his followers did. The Nazis produced books with simple tales and colorful drawings, and messages of hate, such as this one called
In Nazi Germany in the 1930s and '40s, Adolf Hitler wanted children to hate Jewish people as much as he and his followers did. The Nazis produced books with simple tales and colorful drawings, and messages of hate, such as this one called "The Poisonous Mushroom." (The Washington Post / The Spokesman-Review)
Michael Farquhar The Washington Post

Think about the storybooks you read when you were little, such as “Babar,” “Madeline” and Dr. Seuss. You probably didn’t realize it, but they were written not just to entertain you at bedtime but to teach you values like courage and honesty. Kids from other countries have storybooks, too, but the messages they contain are not always good ones.

When Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, for example, children read books such as “Tanks in the Night” and “Battle Stories” that glorified Iraq’s war with neighboring Iran. The books showed proud Iraqi soldiers standing over weak and defeated prisoners of war. Saddam liked these books because he wanted Iraqi children to think that he and his army were all-powerful and that countries like Iran deserved to be conquered.

When a government promotes information to further a cause or belief, it’s called propaganda. And children’s books have long been used as a propaganda tool.

In Nazi Germany in the 1930s and ‘40s, Adolf Hitler wanted children to hate Jewish people as much as he and his followers did. Hitler knew that one of the best ways to make this happen was through children’s stories. So the Nazis produced books with simple tales and colorful drawings, and messages of hate.

Joseph Stalin was a dictator who ruled the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century and murdered millions of his own people before his death in 1953. Despite the misery he caused, Stalin wanted children to believe he cared for them like a father and knew all their thoughts and deeds — sort of like a Soviet Santa Claus. In books from that era, Stalin’s love “guards the children, as he knows them all and thinks about them always,” explained Ben Hellman, an expert on Russian children’s literature at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Lots of Soviet children grew up believing this, thanks in part to the books they read.

China’s communist government has also sought to influence children through what they read. Young people, declared a government newspaper in the 1950s, were “the army for building communism,” and their books should teach them to be good soldiers.

Some people say that Dr. Seuss, too, used some of his stories to make a political point. The big difference is that, unlike Hitler or Stalin, his message was not one of hatred.

Dr. Seuss wrote “The Butter Battle Book” in 1984 when the United States and the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons aimed at each other. Both countries knew that if one side fired, the other would fire back, and both would be destroyed. In the book, the Yooks and the Zooks have a powerful weapon called the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo. The book ends with the two sides wondering which will be the first to use Big-Boy Boomeroo.

“Grandpa!” I shouted. “Be careful! Oh, gee!

Who’s going to drop it?

Will you … Or will he … ?”

“Be patient,” said Grandpa. “We’ll see.

We will see … “

The last page of the book is blank. What do you think Dr. Seuss’ message was there?

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