In 1917, the poster advertising National Baby Week depicted a maternal Britannia beating back the Grim Reaper, two children clutching at her skirts. The picture is captioned ‘Save the Babies’, and the implicit connection between the health of children and that of the nation is made even more explicit in another slogan for the same event: ‘It is more dangerous to be a baby in England than it is to be a soldier in France’. The elision of family and nation evident in the poster usefully illustrates both the practical and ideological importance of the family: Britannia both is the family and is charged with protecting it. National Baby Week, which aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of children and to disseminate parenting advice, exemplifies the increasing concern with both the practical aspects of family life and its ideological significance during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As the state and other outside agencies have increased their attempts both to support the family and to define it, tensions between the two aims have become more apparent: in the National Baby Week poster, Britannia is a defender of the family, but (as a symbol of the state) has also supplanted the ‘natural’ family. This image thus encapsulates many of the issues raised in this chapter: as a primary source of narratives about family, children’s literature has been actively engaged in defining, shaping and interrogating the idea of family and its relationship to selfhood, society and the state.
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