Weapon and tool

The Soviet occupations (1940-41 and 1944-91) touched all fields of life, and children’s literature was no exception. It was heavily censored, as it was supposed to be a weapon of ideological struggle and the tool of the authorities. In October 1940, two new children’s magazines appeared: “Pioneer” (a magazine of the same name, addressed to teenage schoolchildren, was published in every country in the Soviet Union) and “Play and Work” (Mäng ja Töö), which did not last long. In 1946, a newspaper, “Sparkle” (Säde), was added. Publishing was concentrated in state publishing houses; official demand was for new, Soviet children’s books about war heroes, construction work, Soviet patriotism and friendship between the nations. Children’s books were even more strictly controlled than literature for adults, as it was deemed essential to shape the views of the younger generation. Literature had to introduce paragons and ideals, and to depict, in the darkest colours possible, the enemies of socialism and life before socialism. A realist approach became paramount, but only if it matched communist ideology. This, of course, made any truthful depiction of life impossible. In 1952, yet another all-Soviet conference on children’s literature took place in Moscow. By that time, the drawbacks of excessively ideological literature had already been recognised: its schematic nature, its overuse of didactics, ‘ideal’ characters, lack of humour.

At first, new works were few and far between. The topic of home remained in the background, as it was difficult to depict this according to official requirements. After all, many children had lost their homes because of the war and political repression (two rounds of deportations to Siberia), and families were incomplete. Due to the official ban on portraying the past, writers could not depict their childhood, either. The state ideology encouraged surrendering individual interests to collective ones, so life at school was more important than life at home. A child is seen as a pupil and a citizen. Home had a supporting role: in many books, a child comes home and finds mother busy in the kitchen. Mother eagerly inquires after the child’s new pioneer tasks and tries to offer advice about how to fulfil them.

Earlier Estonian children’s literature fell out of favour with the new authorities. Especially despised was the fairy-tale genre, with its highly suspicious language of images. After the hardships and horror of the war, the modern fairy tale became a western European genre, as writers and readers alike sought solace from harsh reality. In 1945, Astrid Lindgren published “Pippi Longstocking” and Tove Jansson started her Moomin stories; 1948 saw J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”.

It was relatively harmless to write about the distant past and nature, where the risk of ideological error was much smaller. Enn Kippel’s “Son of Lembitu” (Lembitu poeg), originally published in instalments, was issued in 1941 under the title “Meelis”. The whole story had been updated, with a motif of ‘great historical friendship’ between the Estonian and Russian nations. Aadu Hint’s Vesse poeg (“Son of Vesse”, 1948) tackled the conquest of Saaremaa by the crusaders. Casting Germans in the role of enemies suited the post-war period perfectly. The author’s message to his young reader was the love of homeland and resistance to alien powers. Animals, birds and insects were the characters in Juhan Kallak’s “Little Grouse Squeak-Squeak” (Tedrepoeg Pii-Pii,1946) and “Zoom-Zoom” (Summ-Summ,1947).

Leida Tigane (1908-83) was one of the most important writers for toddlers, and one of the few whose work persistently included the topic of home. Tigane focused on children’s plays, and her humorous stories seem neutral in any age. “Story of Little Anne” (Lugu väikesest Annest), a kindergarten tale by Aino Tigane (1912-91), conformed to the demands of the day more effectively. The shortcomings of the heroine’s domestic upbringing (the girl is obstinate) are made up for by the successful educational and instructional work of the kindergarten staff and other children. Veera Saar’s “Trip to Blueberry Forest” (Sõit mustikametsa,1912) is also a kindergarten tale. The lively narrative is full of events seen through the eyes of children, but the whole story is based on the idea of re-educating a negative character, and the children pick blueberries according to the rules of “socialist competition”. Felix Kotta (1910-63) wrote longer verse stories about birds and animals (“Look What Happened” [Vaat, mis juhtus], 1951; “Helpful Animals” [Tublid loomad], 1952), which were a considerable addition to children’s reading material.

School life and children’s activities outside school were depicted according to the demands of the day. These rigid demands made all literary efforts psychologically unconvincing and artificial. Pseudo-realistic literature, for example, is represented by V. Läidustare’s “Pioneer Sulev” (1948). The contrast between everyday rural life and whatever the young pioneer organisation offered by way of children’s activities was enormous.

One of the popular topics was the re-education of an individualistic boy or girl by the collective. The collective comprises children in the same class, a group of either pioneers or the younger, “October” children; and the same children play together and form all sport teams. School therefore plays a decisive role in a child’s development, as seen in the early works of Holger Pukk (1920-97), “The Honour of the Pioneer Group” (Salga au,1955) and “The Story of a Team” (Lugu ühest meeskonnast,1956). Pukk usually focuses on the main motif. When a team loses a ball game, it is discussed by the school director, the group leader, the headmaster and a parent-sportsman. It does not occur to anybody that in a competition, someone always has to lose. Even the friendship of a boy and a girl is subjugated to the aims of collective education. In “The Youngest in the Class” (Klassi noorim), by Aino Tigane, Hillar begins to suspect his friend Hilje, who goes to a ballet school, of individualism. Hillar discusses with the class elder the best way to re-educate Hilje.

It was also typical that when, in “Little Tales of Jalukse” (Pisilugusid Jalukselt), by Lall Kahas, the young pioneers are taken to a former stronghold and told about Estonian history from ancient times until World War Two, the period of independence (1918-40) is not even mentioned.

Ralf Parve (1919) was an active editor of children’s literature and headed the section of literature for children and young adults at the Writers’ Union. Serving the existing ideology, he nevertheless defended the children’s literature of earlier eras. He wrote mostly poems, and critics especially appreciated his verses about school. Oskar Ohakas became the symbol of a lazy boy at school for years to come.

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