How toys, scouting and storybooks taught a clear lesson: Loyalty and commitment will win the war.

War impacts everyone; world wars, even more so. The Little War explores the lives of children swept up by the storms of World War I while adults were fighting on the front line and supporting the war effort. 

What does a world war look like to a child? For some, it was saying goodbye to their grown-ups going away to far-off lands. For others, it was holding their grown-ups’ hands as they fled their homes. Often, it was hunger and hardship. 

A small pin issued in support of the aid organization The Fatherless Children of France. 

Grown-ups everywhere saw children as key to achieving victory and legacy. Storybooks cast their childish audiences as patriotic heroes and heroines, glossing over the true horrors of war. Toys and games valorized their country and ridiculed the enemy. Scouting organizations and community drives recruited children to help raise money and conserve resources on the home front. Properly nourished children grew up to be strong soldiers and nurses, so nutrition and diet became much more important to society. Propagandists and relief committees played up stories of war orphans to tug at the heartstrings and pocketbooks of millions. 

Impressionable young minds were learning a clear lesson: Loyalty and commitment will win the war. Molded by the first truly global conflict, the children of WWI grew into the generation that would both inflict and endure profound hardship, economic depression and world war in their turn: the Greatest Generation. 

The Little War is created for children and their grown-ups to understand The Great War from a child’s perspective, using imaginative play, original toys and games, photos and other artifacts from the time period. The exhibition text will be offered at two separate reading levels to ensure accessibility and comprehension. Children and adults can further explore the themes of the exhibition in a small hands-on “living room” featuring WWI era children’s books and contemporary literature, as well as games and puzzles for play.

The Little War is appropriate for all ages to discover a lesser-known part of WWI as they journey through childhood in wartime. The exhibition is on view in the Museum and Memorial’s Exhibit Hall for $10, or an additional $4 when added to general admission.

–National WWI Museum and Memorial

CategoriesArts Consortium

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