YA Through the Decades: 1940s

Welcome to the latest edition of the YA through the Decades Challenge! This month I’ll be taking a look at literature for young people from the 1940s.

Of course breaking time into decades is an arbitrary unit of time, so like the 1930s before it, the 1940s continue to see the popularity of the teen series. Author Helen Wells capitalized on the success of Sue Barton with her series about student nurse Cherry Ames and the Stratemeyer syndicate continued to publish new books in the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and other series.

In 1942, Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer (see my review) seemingly changed young adult literature. Written when Daly was just out of her teen years, the story of 17-year-old Angie Morrow explored first love and everyday teen life in the Midwest. This was one of the first books to use first person narration, a technique that has continued to characterize books for teens. Many imitators followed including Betty Cavanna with Going on Sixteen in 1946 who went on to produce many popular teen romances in the ’40s and ’50s, and Rosamund du Jardin with Practically Seventeen.

While romance novels were popular among girls, many boys flocked to popular sports novels. One of the more prolific writers in the genre was John R. Tunis. His The Kid From Tomkinsville (1940) about a young baseball player sparked many sequels, and his All American (1942) explored racial prejudices in sports.

Not all teens were reading books, however. Magazines continued to be popular. Seventeen magazine debuted in 1944 and has remained a mainstay for young girls. Comic books were also enjoying huge popularity. Superman came on the scene in 1938 and Batman appeared in 1940 and were joined by a host of other popular series, many that have continued until the present day.

Other Notable Teen Books from the 1940s

Animal Stories
National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (1949)
Black Stallion by Walter Farley (1941)
My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara (1941)

Historical Fiction
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1943)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

Contemporary Fiction
Heaven to Betsy, Betsy in Spite of Herself, Betsy Was a Junior, and Betsy and Joe by Maud Hart Lovelace (1945-8)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)


Best Books for Young Adults by Holly Koelling and Betty Carter. American Library Association, 2007.

From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature by Michael Cart. HarperCollins, 1996.

Twentieth-Century Teen Culture by the Decades: A Reference Guide by Lucy Rollin. Greenwood Press, 1999.

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