Our latest Distributed Proofreaders project to become a Project Gutenberg eBook is another World War I juvenile, Two American Boys with the Allied Armies, by “Major Sherman Crockett.” This book is the first in a series, in which two American youths visit the European war zone in search of a missing relative.
Published in 1915, before the United States entered into the conflict, the tone of the book is quite different from war novels of the following years, in which anti-German sentiment was much more explicit. Here, the main characters are careful to maintain neutrality, expressing admiration for bravery on both sides of the conflict, and rendering aid to the injured without prejudice. The portrayal of war is sometimes more nuanced than usual for this type of book as well, making some effort to separate the actions of individuals from those of nations.
However, just because the portrayal of conflict is in some ways more subtle than in other similar books, nothing else about the volume offers much subtlety. The titular boys, a pair of cousins, are drawn with little shading: Jack is always right and does everything perfectly, and Amos simply follow’s Jack’s lead, fawning along the way. Back story tends to be filled in through expositionary dialogue, with absolutely no regard for naturalism. The book also expresses quite strong feelings for the value of unquestioning patriotism.
Along with other series books of this vintage, this title fills in more of the picture of how an active conflict was used to sell books to children in the early 20th century, and what messages publishers thought were appropriate to present in this context.
The entire book is available to read online or download in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.