The Representations of the Spanish Civil War in European Children’s Literature (1975-2008)

by Blanca Ana Roig Rechou (Volume editor) Veljka Ruzicka Kenfel (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 303 Pages


This work analyses the Spanish Civil War in Spanish and European Children’s Literature from 1975, when Spain passed from a dictatorship to a parliamentary monarchy, to the present. The contributors focus on collecting narrative works that deal with the Civil War to describe how the war was lived, remembered and referenced in Spain and other countries and selecting books of literary importance to analyse pre-established topics such as genre, ideology, female/male characters, illustrations and intertextualities. They also propose translations of those works which have not yet been translated into one of the languages of Spain and compare the works based on theoretical-methodological models offered in theories such as post-colonialism, feminism, comparativism and cultural studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • The Spanish Civil War in European Children’s Literature
  • Comparative Study of the Project Corpus
  • Chapter 1. The Representations of the Spanish Civil War in Children and Young Adults’Narrative in the Languages of the Spanish State
  • Agustín Fernández Paz - A Tribute to the Memory of the Broken Dreams
  • The Reality of the War
  • The Representation of The Spanish Civil War in Marina Mayoral’s Juvenile Narrative Works
  • Cielo abajo: The Civil War as Seen by an Adolescent
  • Gernika Revisited: Representation of the Spanish Civil War in Basque Children and Young Adults’ Literature
  • Aqueles anos do Moncho and the Early Years of the Story of the Civil War in Galician Children’s Literature
  • The War as Depicted in Juan Farias’s Works: The Example of Años difíciles
  • War and Post-War in Catalan Young Adults Narrative: Chronicles from the Silence
  • Chapter 2. The Representations of the Spanish Civil War in Children and Young Adults’ Narrative in other European Languages
  • German Children’s Literature on the Spanish Civil War: Works and Authors
  • Els Pelgrom (The Netherlands): De Eikelvreters –The Acorn Eaters
  • The Spanish Civil War in a Particular Fictionalised Story for the Francophone Youth
  • Between History and Fiction: A Casa de Eulália by Manuel Tiago
  • Two Perspectives on the Spanish Civil War in Croatian Texts for Young Adults
  • The Spanish Civil War in the English Literature for Children: A Case Study
  • The Narrative of Adventures and the Spanish Civil War: A Reading of Os Imbatíveis em Salamanca (1994) by Manuela Moniz Lopes and Cremilde Madaíl
  • Cross-Story(ies): Fictional Historiographical Construction in Campos de Lágrimas by José Jorge Letria
  • References to the Spanish Civil War in English Children’s Literature: Tell the Moon to Come Out by Joan Lindgard
  • Chapter 3. Illustration
  • Imagery in the Spanish Children’s Literature
  • Series Index

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The Spanish Civil War in European Children’s Literature

Blanca-Ana Roig Rechou and Veljka Ruzicka Kenfel

This monographic work is one of the results of a research project that began in December 2009 and analysed, from two sub-projects1, The Spanish Civil War in European Children's Literature (1975 - 2008).2

The objectives of the project focused on:

 Collecting narrative works that deal with the Civil War to describe them according to literary style and typology of each title, as proposed by Maryse Bertrand de Muñoz (1982), i.e. how the war was lived, felt, remembered and referenced, in Spain and other countries.

 Choosing a group of books of literary importance to analyse, taking into account a wide range of pre-established themes and stories, some of which are set out in a thematic analysis model and proposing translations of those works which have not yet been translated into one of the languages of Spain.

 Comparing the production in quantitative terms, differentiating between that written by men and that written by women, and on the basis of other topics included in the proposed analysis file, on the basis of the theoretical-methodological models ← 7 | 8 → offered in theories such as post-colonialism, feminism, comparativism and cultural studies.

The basic, pre-established topics are the following:

1. Contextualize each author and book in the literary landscape of each linguistic area.

2. Genre type (novel, story, collection of stories, memoirs, autobiographies, science fiction, diaries, etc.), fictional treatment of historical events.

3. Narrative perspectives, focus, point of view, time and space.

4. Fictional and non-fictional characters.

5. Narrative treatment of the conflict (lived, remembered, alluded to) and its consequences.

6. Treatment of underlying identity and ideology.

7. Themes and motives

8. Representation of female characters compared to the male ones (cultural, symbolic, social, political, professional, family roles, etc).

9. Retelling of traditional myths and legends and / or the creation of new ones,

10. Language, register, style.

11. Use of illustration and other paratextual elements.

12. Intertextualities

13. Comparison of translations between the analysed languages.

The period under consideration is from 1975, when Spain passed from being a dictatorship to a parliamentary monarchy, until 2008, the year this project was commissioned.

The periods for research have been broken down into decades since, especially in Spain, in relation to Children's Literature, each marked a step forward in relation to the collected and analysed corpus, i.e., 1975-1980, 1980-1990, 1990-2000, 2000-2008, and the texts were located using literature histories, books on the subject and the websites of various associations and foundations.3

The Spanish Civil War began on July 17, 1936 with the military coup led by General Francisco Franco Bahamonde, and it quickly spread across Spain. In April 1937, Franco was searching for the support to provide him political power and perpetuate his leadership after the end of the war. He achieved this by taking advantage of the disputes in the leadership of the FE-JONS (Falange Española de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista), which had been founded by José Antonio Primo de Rivera in 1933 to decree the party's unification with the Carlist movement to form the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista (FET/JONS), of which Franco became the Supreme Commander. After three years of war the Republicans were defeated and the Fascists came to power on 2nd April 1939. This was the start of General Francisco Franco Bahamonde's ← 8 | 9 → dictatorship (he was supreme head of the state and of the military at the same time). This dictatorship lasted until his death on 20th November 1975. The same year, Spain installed a political system of parliamentary monarchy which rules to this day.

Franco's power was absolute. He espoused political principles that rejected the Right of Suffrage and banned freedom of speech and of the press. The highest ideals of Francoism were God, Country and Family. One of the most powerful tools used by the dictatorship was the censorship of all publications, works, television and radio broadcasts for the general public. As for the war, this could only be portrayed in publications which presented it as a war for independence. The children's literature which was allowed in that period had two main objectives: to keep young people away from “false ideologies” and to educate them in the ideals of the Franco regime.

It is worth highlighting the works published during the civil war and later, during Franco's dictatorship, aimed at children and teenagers.

During the conflict, only six books [in this category] saw the light of day in Spain: four of these were in Spanish, by Antoniorrobles, and two in Catalan. Antoniorrobles' works were published in two series and they allude in a symbolic way to the Spanish Civil War: one series featured a character called Botón Rompetacones and the other featured Sidrín and Nubarrón the Fascist. The two works in Catalan are characterised by their recognition of the region's culture: from the point of view of a noiet, a boy who hoists the Catalan flag in El més petit de tots (1937)4, by the writer and illustrator Lola Anglada i Sarriera, and as an adaptation of the popular “auca” genre in the comic book Auca del noi català, antifeixista i humà (1937)5, by the painter, and designer Josep Obiols i Palau. The latter was used in schools and was published simultaneously in Spanish, French and English; thanks to its success it spawned a collection of children's books presented at the “Fira del Llibre” in 1937.

Between 1940 and 1960 two works were published: Cuentos del tío Fernando (1940)6, by Fernando Fernández Córboda, a selection of highly patriotic and pro-Franco stories which were broadcast on Ondas Animadas by Radio Nacional de España in Salamanca; and Patio de corredor (1956)7, by Montserrat del Amo, a novel marked by its social and moralizing intent wherein the young protagonist learns to moderate their mindless, rebellious nature and to value their family. ← 9 | 10 →

Non-Spanish works were of an autobiographical nature. In the USA, In Place of Splendor: The Autobiography of a Spanish Woman (1939)8, by Constancia de la Mora Maura9, published in the United States; A Criação do Mundo: o Quarto Dia, by Miguel Torga, published in Portugal. There was also a group of authors who wrote novels and poems about the Spanish Civil War told from their own viewpoint and about their own experiences as journalists, politicians, historians and philosophers fighting on the side of the Republicans. This was the case with Arthur Koestler: Ein spanisches Testament (1937)10; Alfred Kantorowitz: Tschapaiew. Das Bataillon der 21 Nationen (1938)11; Willi Bredel: Begegnung am Ebro (1939)12; Hermann Kesten: Die Kinder von Gernika (1939) and Eduard Claudius: Grüne Oliven und nackte Berge (1944)13, published in Germany.

Die Kinder von Gernika14 has been the most acclaimed of these. In this novel for teenage readers Kesten tells the story of Carlos Espinosa, a 15 year old boy whose entire family is killed in Gernika in 1937. He arrives in France along with other orphaned children where he is taken in and adopted by a French family. He grows up quite happily but always asks himself what were the reasons for his situation. Inquiring about the lives of their parents and biological siblings, he discovers some terrible details that lead to their suicide. Kesten present the children as the main victims of the civil war and he attempts to portray the shock and emotions of the child refugees.

The first Portuguese book about the war in Spain was published in Coimbra in 1939 (A Criação do Mundo: o Quarto Dia).15 It is an autobiographical work by Miguel Torga in which the war serves as food for thought about the value of life and human relationships. He denounces the war as being the greatest human folly and tragedy: “Homes da minha idade, manetas, coxos, cegos, desfigurados, inválidos para o resto da vida; velhos e crianças cobertos de luto; e um palco imenso de terra em pousio e silêncio opressivo à espera do último acto da tragédia” (p. 230 of the 1991 edition).16

A number of texts about the civil war aimed at young readers also appeared in Croatia. These works are distinguished by the point of view from which the civil war ← 10 | 11 → is viewed; they reflect a strong, unambiguous ideology and aim to provoke a sense of recognition and empathy in the Croatian readership with the Spanish fighters. The first group of texts consists of those works created during or immediately after the war. The central theme is the battle for the Alcazar de Toledo and the heroic deeds of the young cadets in the Nationalist army are glorified. These include Toledski Alcazar i Siget17 by Božidar Mažuranic (1936) and the novel Junaci Alkazara18 by Rudolph Timmerman (1937). Through continuous recollections of the glorious history of Croatia, its aim is to awaken national awareness and disseminate anti-Communist ideas.

Only two books about the civil war aimed at a young readership from the 1950s, published outside of Spain, were found. They both come from Portugal: A Curva da Estrada by Ferreira de Castro (1950)19, and Terra de Ninguém by Manuel Seabra (1959). The first of these recounts the memories of Don Soriano, a Spanish ex-socialist, of his youthful ideals and of his conversion to nationalism. The main character is split between his idealistic alter ego from that period and his Me of today, influenced by his current situation. The leitmotif of the story is the discrepancy between the political attitude of the young Soriano during the war and of the older and well-to-do post-war Soriano.

Seabra's novel tells of the adolescent Manolo, a soldier who finds himself involved in the war despite having no political convictions. He analyses the stance of both sides as he finds them and comes to the conclusion that he belongs to neither: “Eu estava à margem. Uns ganharam. Outros perderam. Eu, porém, estava na terra de ninguém, entre dois exércitos em luta. Ainda hoje lá estou” (p. 153). As a result of his wartime experiences he becomes resigned and disillusioned:

“É estranho como aqueles três anos de guerra me transformaram de tal modo e me marcaram tão absolutamente. Foi como se um corte tivesse dividido a minha vida em duas grandes fatias. E o passado afastara-se e perdera significado no espaço e no tempo” (p. 30).

Between 1960 and 1975 only two books were published in Spanish, one in Catalan and two in Galician. The two novels written in Spanish fall between children's literature and adult literature. They are: Libro de juegos para los niños de los otros (1961)21, by Ana María Matute and Los niños que perdimos la guerra (1970)22, by Luis Garrido. Both reflect the harshness of childhood on the defeated side and the ← 11 | 12 → empty life and lack of opportunities in adult life, while the Catalan novel, Foc a l’Albera (1974)23, by Estanislau Torres reflects only events that occurred during the war. The Galician novels, by Xosé Neira Vilas portray the harsh realities of post-war life. Balbino, the main character in Memorias dun neno labrego (Buenos Aires, 1961; Galicia, 1968)24 keeps a little notebook where he writes about the events that affect his life and his thoughts about what he sees during that period. He refers to the war and is marked by the direct consequences - misery, scarcity of food and other basics and, more than anything, the lack of hope, of joy, of dreams. Cartas a Lelo (1971)25 consists of 21 letters which Toño de Loureiro sends to Lelo, his friend who has migrated to Brazil. In these letters he reflects on the society into which they (as well as Balbino) were born and they talk about the misery and the problems provoked by the postwar, lack of resources and of isolation.

Various works were published outside of Spain In this era.

From the United Kingdom comes The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)26 by Muriel Spark, a coming-of-age novel featuring the civil war. It is set in an Edinburgh school where a school mistress attempts to instil her aesthetic and moral ideals into her group of girls. It confronts the ideology of fascism and republicanism using examples from the Spanish Civil War. As a result of her teachings, one of the girls decides to go to the warzone and she is killed in an air-raid. There are two peculiar points of interest about the book: Both the author and the main character are female.

In Germany, one of the most important testimonies about the Spanish Civil War was Spanisches Kriegstagebuch (1966)27, by Alfred Kantorowitz. This is, without doubt one of the best documented histories of the war. It consists of tales about the experiences that the seventy eight young brigadistas lived through during the war, in the form of letters, poems and photographs. It is packed with real information and literary reflections.

The second German work worth highlighting is Im Versteck (1972)28, by Ronald Fraser, which can be defined as a book about family. It tells of the life of a woman and her two children who had to keep the secret of their father's concealment in the house ← 12 | 13 → for 30 years. It is a tale of courage and solidarity and of the advanced maturity of the children who grew up during the war.

Another type of texts that addressed the Spanish Civil War is the Croatian books representing direct testimony of the participants in the war fighting on the side of the International Brigades. They consist of six volumes entitled Španija (Spain)29, published in 1971 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Yugoslavian Communist Party. Their aim was to restore and revive the spirit of unity and to awaken memories of a commitment to the ideals which, at the time of publication, were effusive and troubled. In that period Yugoslavia, as a multi-national state, was rocked by nationalist movements within each member republic, demanding equality and decentralization. These works specifically espouse the same ideals: the creation of a mythology about the fight and the commitment of the young in a common battle against the absolute demonization of the opponent, regardless of their political ideology.

Between 1975 and 1980 there were very few works which merit inclusion here as, although there are some which mention the postwar, there are so few references that they were not considered for selection. Two works from Spain - one in Galician and the other in Catalan are worth mentioning.

Firstly, Aqueles anos do Moncho (1977)30, by the Galician writer Xosé Neira Vilas (Gres, Vila de Cruces, Pontevedra, 1928), an emigrant in exile. This was the final part of the trilogy which he started with Memorias dun neno labrego (Buenos Aires, 1961; Galicia, 1968)31, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011. These memoirs refer to the civil war and its consequences, as do Cartas a Lelo (1971) and the book which is of interest, Aqueles anos do Moncho (1977).32 The three books contain memories of the war and the critics referred to the series as “O ciclo do neno”. In the final part of the series, Neira Vilas recounts the events of the civil war and their consequences in a rural setting where the men are cowed by fear. This fear is transmitted to the boy and affects his life. The book emphasises a model of national identity (Figueroa, 2001) which should be kept alive and examines conflicting experiences, crisis, the main character's worries and concerns, conditioned by hunger and poverty, oppression, effects of emigration, the ideological and cultural backwardness caused by war, religion, school, language problem, subordination of women to men, portrayal of the more traditional roles of women, etc.; many of these thoughts recur in other works in the series.

The second, the Catalan book Dues línies terriblement paral·leles (1978)33, by Francesc Grau i Viader, is a fictional recreation of the diaries written by the author ← 13 | 14 → while on the front which he either lost or had to destroy at the end of the war. This diary is filled with the best and worst aspects of the human condition (violence, thoughtlessness, companionship, loneliness, envy, nobility, etc.), the harshness of life on the front and the character of the men forced to fight and live in extremis, from the perspective of those who are open to life and who question these absurd and unjust aspects. Although this novel was not published for a specific audience of young people the age of the main character, the narrative style and the message conveyed make it an attractive choice for young readers. Furthermore, it is one of the few novels to be set in the trenches and it was also one of the first testimonies published in Catalan after the death of the dictator.

In the decade of the 1980s seventeen books were published in Spain and another eight abroad. In the seventeen books from Spain, four were written in Catalan, one in Galician and the other twelve in Spanish. The majority represent the war as it was experienced and recounted by the narrator or main character. This is the case with Guerra incivil (1981)34, by Manuel Tort i Martí; El Barco de los peregrinos (1984)35, El Guardián del silencio (1985)36 and Los pequeños nazis del 43 (1987)37, by Juan Farias; Pedra de tartera (1985)38, by Maria Barbal; La acera rota (1986)39, by Mercedes Neuschäfer-Carlón; Celia en la revolución (1987)40, by Elena Fortún; Hubo una vez otra guerra (1989)41, by Luis Antonio Puente and Fernando Lalana; Chamábase Luis (1989)42, by Marina Mayoral. There were also many autobiographies, some written in third person, as is the case with El Moro, les taronges i la guerra ← 14 | 15 → (1984)43, by Ricard Creus; although they also write about daily life and taking sides in post-war Spain, making brief references to the war and its consequences or memories of the conflict. This happens in Los niños de la guerra (1983)44, by Josefina Aldecoa; Años difíciles (1983)45, by Juan Farias; Fosco (1985)46 and El despertar de Tina (1988)47, by Antonio Martínez Menchén; El viaje en el jardín (1986)48, by Jesús Fernández Santos; El soñador furtivo (1988)49, by Jesús Martínez Carazo; and En Ranquet i el tresor (1986)50, by Emili Teixidor.

Three of the eight foreign titles were published in Portugal and they reflect the relationships and conflicts between the two neighbours. Vida e morte dos Santiagos (1985)51, by Mário Ventura, a story about a teenager which has the civil war as a backdrop, is worth mentioning here. In a search for his identity, the young lead character José Santiago travels to Brasilia where he revisits the places where he spent his early childhood in exile. He discovers many things about his past which were unknown during the civil war.

Two of the books were from Germany. They are in a reportage style and deal with the experiences during the ware of mainly Jewish characters. The book by Ruth Rewald, Vier Spanische Jungen (1987)52 is worth highlighting as it deals with the experiences of the civil war. It is a type of autobiography in which she refers to her work in a children's hospital where she was witness to some shocking true stories. One ← 15 | 16 → of which is the main tale in this book. It is a criticism of cruelty and barbarity against hunger, misery, friendship and solidarity.

One book was published in the Netherlands: De Eikelvreters (1989)53, by Els Pelgrom (pseudonym for Else Koch), a woman who had to emigrate with her parents after the failed 1944 attempt by the allies to occupy Arnheim. In many of her books she describes her impressions of the war, the German occupation and the persecution of the Jews. De eikelvreters is a collection of her husband's childhood recollections. The story takes place in Sacremonte, a village in Andalucía which has been devastated by the consequences of the war - such as hunger and misery. Curro, an eight year old boy has to leave school to look after the animals and help to look after the eight people in his family. The novel describes his hard childhood and his thoughts about his incomprehensible life: the eternal search for food and the on-going fight for survival. All this at only eight years of age:

Wat hij had besloten was dat ik na de kerstvakantie niet meer naar school zou gaan. Die middag, toen hij thuiskwam om te eten, zei hij het. Even voelde ik iets raars in mijn keel. Ik had het helemaal niet verwacht, en toch waren er bij ons in het dorp zoveel kinderen die nooit naar school gingen, die thuis moesten helpen en er wat bij verdienden. Ik zei: ‘Moet ik dan dom blijven?’ Mijn vader keek me lang en ernstig aan. ‘Iemand die niet naar school gaat is daarom niet dom,’ zei hij (p. 37).

There are two major themes in the book: The extreme misery of the people who live in the caves and the reprisals and repression in the post-war period.

In the 1990s twenty nine books were published in Spain on the subject and seven from abroad.

The twenty-nine Spanish books follow similar themes to the above but with more focus on criticism and in models of national identity. This can be seen in the works written in Catalan, Basque, Galician and also in those written in Spanish which are set in Galicia or whose main characters are from Galicia. It is worth highlighting that the wartime events are captured through memories and research. This is the case with the first book published in Galician by Antonio García Teijeiro, A teima de Xan (1991)54, which tackles the subject of internal exile through the investigations of a teenager who, as an adult, remembers the discovery of the existence of a uncle who had been a teacher but who had been rejected and misunderstood by peers and even family members throughout his entire life. The cause of this rejection is based on his defence of his ideals during the civil war, ideals which included his determination to teach the Galician language and to keep alive the symbols and mythology of his homeland. Triste Armas (1994)55 by Marina Mayoral is also worth mentioning; it is a tribute to the Spanish children, children of Republicans who, because of the civil war have been sent to the Soviet Union. The work looks at the historical period through the eyes of two sisters in an enforced exile. It speaks about the problems of adaptation and suffering, far away from what was happening in their homeland and the fate of their ← 16 | 17 → families. A letter could have softened the pain but it took forty-five years to arrive. Their emotional return and their memories of this traumatic childhood bring this realistic tale to an end.

There were seven books published abroad: one in France and the remaining six in Portugal. They all defend the Republican ideals, talk about the fugitives and the Maquis, about emigration to Portugal, the political situation in both countries, life in concentration camps and represent the war through experiences, memories or reference. Some of the works worthy of mention include Une auberge espagnole (1994)56 by Luis Bonet, a collection of stories related to the combatants on the Republican side and to life in French concentration camps and A Casa de Eulália (1997)57 by Manuel Tiago (the pen-name of Álvaro Cunhal), set in Madrid and the surrounding areas it tells of a group of Portuguese men and women belonging to the Communist Party who participated in wartime operations and in the Resistance against fascism, leaving aside their personal lives and plans.

Eight years of the 21st century were analysed and there were fifty seven works published in Spain and seventeen in other European countries.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (June)
Exil Mündliche Überlieferung Diktatur Historical memory Spanischer Bürgerkrieg
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 303 pp., 20 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Blanca Ana Roig Rechou (Volume editor) Veljka Ruzicka Kenfel (Volume editor)

Blanca Ana Roig Rechou is a Professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) where she is teaching Galician Literature. Her areas of research are critical studies of Galician and Spanish Children’s Literature. Veljka Ruzicka Kenfel is a Full Professor at the University of Vigo (Spain) where she is teaching German Language and Literature. Her areas of research are critical studies of translations and adaptations of German Children’s Literature.


Title: The Representations of the Spanish Civil War in European Children’s Literature (1975-2008)
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