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The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad: Anthropomorphism and The Great War

© 2014, Joanne Roitman

A copy of the 1918 reprint of the original 1916 edition of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad is housed in Ryerson University’s Children’s Literature Archive. The book is written by Thornton Waldo Burgess and is illustrated by Harrison Cady. It was published in Boston by Little, Brown, and Company and falls under the genre of nature stories and anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is defined as attributing human characteristics and emotions to non-living things and/or animals.

I wish to connect Old Mr. Toad to the Great War. As America did not get involved until 1917, I will explore the publishing company’s decision to reprint the novel during the final year of the war. Due to the sparse information on the novel’s production and reception, I will be contributing new insights to this topic and will provide future researchers with a thoroughly investigated narrative. As well, my critical approach shall be oriented to the increase in demand for anthropomorphic children’s novels during WWI, in which Old Mr. Toad is an example.

Book Cover of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (1918) by Thornton W. Burgess
Book Cover of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (1918) by Thornton W. Burgess

Summary of the Novel

The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad begins with the character, Peter Rabbit, who, after hearing Mr. Toad sing rather beautifully, realizes that perhaps he had misjudged his friend. He relied on the inevitable fact that Mr. Toad was not physically attractive and thus could not sing well. Incidentally, he is proven wrong and attempts to get to know Mr. Toad better. He learns about Mr. Toad’s children, his beautiful eyes, his long tongue, and his ability to camouflage within small, dark spaces.

As the novel progresses, so does the narrative perspective, shifting from Peter Rabbit to Old Mr. Toad. He encounters the terrifying Mr. Blacksnake and Buster Bear, but after dining on ants with Buster Bear, he no longer regards him as scary. Believing himself a very important friend of Buster Bear’s, puffed out with pride, Mr. Toad shuns his old friends. He believes himself better than them. In turn, they play a prank on him in order to teach him that he was behaving rudely.

Thornton W. Burgess and The Great War

For unspecified reasons, Thornton Waldo Burgess was unable to participate in active service during the Great War (Burgess 134). However, he found three alternative methods of contributing to the war efforts on the homefront. This was done through the medium he knew best: storytelling.

The Green Meadow Club

“The Green Meadow Club”, a column in the People’s Home Journal, contained entertaining and instructive stories on nature, written by Burgess, with illustrations by Harrison Cady. The club led a campaign during WWI to get children involved in the war efforts through donations (Meigs 33). The hope of this charity was to establish bird sanctuaries. The creation of these sanctuaries was intended to protect birds, as they were valuable in controlling troubling insects. As a result, this would help increase the production of food for the war.

Burgess capitalized on this in his “Bedtime Stories” column, published separately from “The Green Meadow Club”. He offered a certificate of club membership and a button with Cady’s drawing of Peter Rabbit to those who contributed. Through the efforts of roughly two thousand boys and girls, nearly four thousand sanctuaries were erected. They were situated in various parts of America and encompassed nine thousand acres of land.

In 1919, after the war ended, the New York Zoological Society awarded Burgess with a gold medal of the Wild Life Protection Fund (33-34). His service to the protection of wildlife and the war efforts was recognized. As a writer of children’s fiction, it was a great honor to be acknowledged in the natural science world.

Happy Jack Squirrel

Happy Jack Squirrel

A campaign arose in America during the Great War for the sale of war-savings stamps and thrift stamps among children. This was done for school children who could not afford to purchase Liberty bonds. The American government issued the sale of Liberty bonds in order to finance the war efforts in Europe.

The chairman of the War Savings Committee in Sandwich, Massachusetts approached Thornton Burgess and appealed to him to produce five stories geared towards thrift and patriotism (Burgess 134-135). Consequently, the character of Happy Jack Squirrel was created.

Burgess was able, through the stories of Happy Jack, to increase the sale of stamps. Before, school children did not understand their purpose and were uninterested in their teachers’ constant appeals. Thus, such stories of thrift, as told by an anthropomorphic squirrel, were much more engaging. Happy Jack was able to preach what the children could do to support America during the war, without appearing patronizing (138).

Burgess employed a psychology of human superiority in these stories. Children would listen to Happy Jack only because they felt that they knew better than he did. Unlike their teachers who they looked to as their superiors, the children believed that what Happy Jack dictated was something they already took to be known and true. As a result, young readers were able to grasp the importance of thrift and patriotism as taught to them by an anthropomorphic squirrel (139).

As a consequence, it became apparent to Burgess the power of anthropomorphism in storytelling, especially as to its effect on the efforts of children during WWI (140).

The Adventures of Bob White (1919)

In 1919, Thornton Burgess wrote The Adventures of Bob White as a response to the violence that accompanied the end of WWI. In this Bedtime Story-Book, he used the anthropomorphic quail, Bob White, to illuminate the danger of firearms (Connor 127).

Bob White is wounded by a hunter and pays homage to the persecution of innocents during the Great War. Children can identify with the abjectness of the situation, while simultaneously feeling courageous, as someone is in more need than they are (128).

The character of Bob White was being written as Little, Brown, and Company reprinted The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad. It would appear that the publishing company wished to use Mr. Toad to educate children within wartime with a less heavy hand than in The Adventures of Bob White.

Production and Reception… Or Lack There Of

After conducting a thorough investigation into the production and reception history of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad, I unearthed something most curious. Rather, there are no documented sources on such topics as it relates to the 1918 reprint of Old Mr. Toad.

Thus, I have taken it upon myself to make inferences as to why that is. On the basis of research and educated decisions, I shall deduce why a hole exists in relation to production and reception history.

The Bedtime Story-Books and the Mother West Wind series are the best-known collaborative works between Thornton W. Burgess and Harrison Cady. The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad is a part of the Bedtime Story-Books series, but the titular character was not one of Burgess’s most beloved. Rather, the recurring character of Peter Rabbit, inspired by Beatrix Potter’s character of the same name, was prolific. Eventually, this character was renamed Peter Cottontail.

As well, Cady’s rise to fame was through the comic strip, Peter Rabbit, which ran in a weekly Sunday newspaper (Zipes 243). As a result, much of the research on production and reception history, as it relates to the partnership between Burgess and Cady, is on such a character. In fact, it would appear that Mr. Toad is all but forgotten and dismissed by readers of the Bedtime Story-Books. Interestingly, the story within Old Mr. Toad explores this very once-over: Peter Rabbit and the other woodland creatures realize that they had misjudged Mr. Toad, as they previously never paid him much attention.

Analysis and Conclusion

As Old Mr. Toad was not one of Thornton W. Burgess’s most popular characters, it is no wonder that I could not find any details on The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad. However, I can infer that the demand for anthropomorphic characters within children’s novels was on the rise during WWI, which could be reason for its reprint. Such stories contained morals and Burgess used the animals as instructors to teach children how to behave (Cullinan 131-132). Furthermore, the technique of anthropomorphism was used to arouse the imagination.

Peter Rabbit and Old Mr. Toad, illustrated by Harrison Cady
Peter Rabbit and Old Mr. Toad, illustrated by Harrison Cady from The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (1918)

Incidentally, Burgess was criticized for humanizing animals and nature, which seems contradictory to the aim of his animal and nature stories (Watson 116). He wished to provide a friendly face to such wild, untamed beings, realizing their value in the sustainability of the environment. As the 1918 reprint of Old Mr. Toad was released during a time of turmoil, it would appear that American children needed to learn how to behave at this time through Mr. Toad.

Similarly to Happy Jack Squirrel and Bob White, Mr. Toad provided a lesson in morals and behaviour to the young boys and girls, as he encouraged them to be humble. Peter Rabbit also taught readers to not be so quick as to judge a book by its cover. These lessons are valuable for children and were regarded as important during the last year of the Great War.

Anthropomorphism was a storytelling technique employed by Thornton Waldo Burgess in his novel, The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad. The increased demand for novels featuring such genre was on the rise during the final years of WWI. As an American author, Burgess’s original 1916 book of the same name was reprinted a mere two years later, in relation to the involvement of the United States in 1917.

Such novels featuring anthropomorphic creatures were very popular at this time as they taught young readers morals and encouraged good behavior. In addition, they were very imaginative and could be enjoyed by both children and adults.

Consequently, I have concluded that the publishing company, Little, Brown, and Company, chose to reprint Old Mr. Toad in 1918, as the titular character was able to instruct children without sounding as though he was preaching. Children are more likely to listen to the lessons being taught by an animal, in which they view themselves as superior, as opposed to parents, teachers, and other adults. This psychology enabled Burgess to become a beloved children’s novelist and provided the basis for Little, Brown, and Company’s reprint of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad in the final year of the Great War.

link to CLA Omeka

Works Cited

Burgess, Thornton W. Now I Remember: The Autobiography of Thornton W. Burgess. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1960. 134-140. Print.

Burgess, Thornton W. The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad. Illus. Harrison Cady. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1918. Print.

Connor, Kathleen M. Beyond the Words of a Storyteller: The Cine-Semiotic Play of the Abject, Terror and Community in the Anti-Hunting Trilogy of Thornton W. Burgess. Diss. University of Ottawa, 2007. Ottawa: privately published, 2007. 125-128. Web.

Cullinan, Bernice E., and Diane G. Person. “Burgess, Thornton.” The Continuum Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. New York: Continuum, 2001. 130-131. Print.

Dowhan, Michael W. Introduction. Thornton W. Burgess, Harrison Cady: A Book, Magazine, and Newspaper Bibliography. By Michael W. Dowhan. New York: Carlton Press, 1990. 1-3. Print.

Meigs, Frances B. My Grandfather, Thornton W. Burgess: An Intimate Portrait. Beverly, Massachusetts: Commonwealth Editions, 1998. Print.

Oehlkers, Peter. “Happy Jack’s Thrift Club.” Thornton W. Burgess Research League. N.p. 4 May 2010. Web. 18 March 2014.

Tindall, George Brown. America: A Narrative History. 7th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. Print.

“The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad.” Gutenberg. David Newman. 15 June 2004. Web. 18 March 2014.

Watson, Victor. “Burgess, Thornton.” The Cambridge Guide to Children’s Books in English. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 116. Print.

Wright, Wayne W. “The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad.” Thornton W. Burgess, A Descriptive Book Bibliography. Sandwich, Massachusetts: Thornton W. Burgess Society, 1979. 49. Print.

Zipes, Jack. “Burgess, Thornton W.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Vol. 1. 4 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 232. Print.

Zipes, Jack. “Cady, Harrison.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Vol. 1. 4 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 243. Print.

Fairy Tales and War through Cyrus Macmillan’s Canadian Wonder Tales

© Copyright 2014 Micheal Vipond, Ryerson University


Front Cover: Canadian Wonder Tales (1918)

F airy tales play a crucial role in childhood. They represent imagination and creativity while allowing children to have a safe way to experience and process mature content, such as poverty, violence, and death. Often, fairy tales act as the first form of exposure children have to other cultures, to morals and values and to the concept of death itself. This sentiment is reflected through Canadian Wonder Tales, published in 1918 by Cyrus Macmillan, which is a collection of Canadian fairy tales and stories located in the Children’s Literature Archive at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario.

First published in 1918 by the John Lane Company, Canadian Wonder Tales was largely written and edited while Macmillan was fighting in France during WWI. Macmillan, as a member of the 7th Siege Battery in France, played a crucial role in the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge. Most of his correspondence and editing occurred in between regular military duties while serving in France (Macmillan xii). The collection features illustrations by British artist George Sheringham, who was widely recognized as an influential artist of hist time (“George Sheringham R.D.I. 1937”). The collection was edited and sponsored by Scottish scholar Sir William Peterson, who also contributed the Forward to the book.

The concept of the effect of fairy tales during times of war becomes a critical aspect of childhood development:  fairy tales act as an imaginative escape from the cruel reality of wartime and define foreign cultures in the minds’ of young and impressionable children. During times of heightened hostility amongst different nations and cultures – such as war, fairy tales act as the sole understanding children have of the world around them. These stories mold the perspective children have for their entire lives.


Canadian Wonder Tales is a collection of fairy tales from a Canadian perspective. Macmillan, before he fought in WWI, travelled across Canada hearing stories and tales from fellow travelers, natives, fisherman, sailors, and townsfolk (xii). In similar fashion to how the Grimm brothers collected and wrote their collection of fairy tales a century earlier, Macmillan set out to experience a wide variety of tales that represented Canadian culture (vii). The stories in this collection revolve around the natural wonders of Canada: the fantastic environments of mountains and lakes, the extensive animal life, and the people that inhabit this country.

End Cover Illustration by George Sheringham

Many of the people that told stories to Macmillan brought their tales to Canada after immigrating to the country from foreign lands, specifically Europe. Through this influence, as well as Macmillan’s romanticised European writing style, many of the tales incorporate a European experience or understanding (vii). Combining this European influence with the Aboriginal stories and Canadian landscape, the result is a collection of tales that is uniquely Canadian. These tales focus on the natural wonders of life in Canada and express the multicultural aspects of the country. This collection features 32 various stories including “Glooskap’s Country,” ”The First Mosquito” and “How Summer Came To Canada.” Each story is accompanied by a beautifully drawn illustration from Sheringham in a native style. Sheringham also contributed the native-influenced front and end cover illustrations for a total of 32 pictures.


This collection of stories was largely written and compiled by Macmillan as he fought overseas with many of the stories being written during his time at Vimy Ridge. Canadian Wonder Tales was published in London, New York, and Toronto in 1918. The publishing company – John Lane Company and its subsidiary of The Bodley Head – directed the collection towards children as the target audience (viii). This is evident by their newspaper advertisements in the 1918 Saturday Review newspaper titled “John Lane’s New Books.”

However, this collection of fairy tales is featured directly alongside The Rough Road, which is a fictitious war novel by William J. Locke. The significance of this is that the publishing company recognized a wartime novel and a collection of fairy tales as equals:  they share a similar placing in the advertisement, suggesting they were of relatively equal importance to the company. While it was marketed as a children’s book, the reception of Canadian Wonder Tales demonstrates the crossover between childhood literature and adult literature. This is one significant example highlighting the reduced presence of innocence in childhood as a result of the violence of war.

john lane ad
Saturday Review Advertisement: “John Lane’s New Books” (1918)


Macmillan’s work was highly recognized in Canadian literature, especially in terms of his native stories and content. In a December 1955 review from the Globe and Mail, the author acknowledges another collection written by Macmillan called Glooskap’s Country and Other Indian Tales. This was published more than 30 years after Canadian Wonder Tales, yet features many of the native stories from Macmillan’s original collection. The author of the review recognizes Macmillan as a master craftsman of storytelling (Pratt 16). This demonstrates how Macmillan’s work continued to be relevant in a Canadian and native context for years after Canadian Wonder Tales was published, highlighting both the significance of the work and the importance of the author.

“The Great Eagle Made the Winds for Him” by George Sheringham

Another article from the Globe and Mail in November of 1956 recognizes Macmillan as the winner of the Bronze Book-of-the-Year medal from the Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians for his collection Glookskap’s Country and Other Indian Tales. This further demonstrates how Macmillan’s work in Canadian Wonder Tales continued to be relevant and significant to Canadian literature – especially children’s literature – even after his death in 1953 (“The Fly Leaf” 13).

According to Priscilla Ord and Carole H. Carpenter, Canadian literature is overshadowed by American and British literature. Very little Canadian literature is produced in comparison to these sister countries. However, they argue that the content of these books is uniquely Canadian, separating itself from the likes of American imperialism and British themes, and revealing critical cultural elements of Canada (Ord and Carpenter 3). This idea is reflected in Canadian Wonder Tales, which portrays an exclusively Canadian perspective and has been recognized for such an achievement.

Scholarly Significance:

Both Macmillan and Peterson were respected leaders in the field of education and literature. Macmillan, before going to France, was the Head of the English Department at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, while Peterson was the Principal of the University through wartime. Each man played a significant role in the Canadian war effort.

House of Commons, 1940: Cyrus Macmillan

Peterson led McGill’s contribution to the war, lending his campus and facilities to the training of Canadian troops. He was an avid supporter of volunteer soldiers, sending volunteer students and faculty to Europe in McGill regiments that came to be known as the No. 7 Siege Battery. Macmillan volunteered to fight in France as a member of the 7th Battery, which played a crucial role in the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge:  both a defining moment in WWI and in Canadian history (Macmillan 261).

Men of Canada: Sir William Peterson

Each man was heavily involved in the Canadian war effort, and each acted as though this collection of tales was of utmost importance to produce during this time. Macmillan spent his shifts off writing and editing the collection, while Peterson spent his spare time editing Macmillan’s work (Macmillan vii). It must be acknowledged that these trusted and respected literary scholars believed in the importance of Canadian Wonder Tales so much that they wrote, edited, and published the book while contributing to the Canadian war effort.

Effect of Fairy Tales on Childhood Development:

According to literary scholars and analysts Marilyn Fleer and Marie Hammer, fairy tales play a key role in the cognitive development of children. They act as cultural devices that allow children to develop tools for emotional regulation (Fleer and Hammer 240). In their analysis, Fleer and Hammer suggest that children incorporate the ideas and concepts of fairy tales and other children’s stories to understand situations in their everyday lives. These situations are emotionally charged, allowing children to experience them and gain an understanding of the imaginative space without feeling threatened (256).

Furthermore, Fleer and Hammer argue that illustrations make the text more engaging for children (250). The detailed illustrations from Sheringham in both black and white and colour contribute to visual stimulation and imagination for children, making the collection more interesting and appealing for younger audiences. These theories of cognitive development directly apply to Canadian Wonder Tales. Both Macmillan and Peterson, as literary scholars, recognized the pedagogical merit of fairy tales and stories – especially during times of violence – and made it their goal for Canadian children to be able to experience these situations and process their emotions in a safe environment.

Fairy Tales and Violence:

During WWI, fairy tales were a safe and simple way for children to understand the perils of violence and death while seeing these evils presented with positive resolution:  the hero is almost exclusively victorious in these stories.

“The Girl Looked Through the Hole, and Saw the Earth Far Beneath Her” by George Sheringham

For example, in “Star-Boy and the Sun Dance,” the young man known as “Star-Boy” is born poor and with an ugly scar on his face which prevents him from marrying the girl he loves. After a long and treacherous journey, the boy meets the Sun and Moon, who promise to remove his scar and guarantee the love of this girl if he has an annual festival in their honour. They boy accepts this deal and they deliver on their promise. The boy marries the girl and lives the rest of his life in happiness (Macmillan 12). This story demonstrates that a child, born into poverty and a victim of violence, can rise from this situation to become happy. This tale is a perfect comparison to children who grew up as victims of poverty and the violence of war, offering hope and happiness and allowing them to cope with the perils of their reality.

Children are able to relate to the characters in these stories and better understand their role in the world through the experiences of these fictional characters (Fleer and Hammer 241). During a time in Canadian culture when the innocence of childhood was sparse, Canadian Wonder Tales was able to reintegrate imagination and creativity into the lives of children, helping them to cope with the mature content of violence and death that surrounded their everyday lives. By reading and understanding the situations in fairy tales, children are able to understand their own circumstances (Feuerverger 234). This learning tool helped mold an entire generation of Canadian children.

Fairy Tales as a Tool for Reflection:

This important role of fairy tales in childhood development is recognized through adulthood. According to researcher Donald Haase, fairy tales act as a point of reference for adults. These stories allow adults to reflect upon how they responded to cultural and societal revelations as children. Specifically, adults acknowledge how they were exposed to specific ideas – such as death, violence, and poverty – through stories (Haase 361). The significance of this is that is demonstrates the impact fairy tales have on children throughout their entire lives.

“That Night When all the Village was Asleep, The Boy Went to the Foot of the Mountain” by George Sheringham

Furthermore, these stories act as the foundation of cognitive development in adults; this understanding is recognized through adulthood (362). This idea supports the strong reception of stories in Canadian Wonder Tales through the 1950’s. Adults in the 1950’s reflect upon literature from their childhood, such as Canadian Wonder Tales, and recognize its significance in their cognitive development. These adults continue to acknowledge the text for its impact on Canadian literary society and its influence on their own lives as children. The strong praise the text and author received decades after its publishing support the concept that fairy tales play a pivotal role in childhood development and the education of society as a whole.


Through analysing the effects of fairy tales on childhood development, it is evident that the imaginative space of the stories in Canadian Wonder Tales contributed to children’s understanding of the violent world around them during the years of WWI. By allowing children to both understand violence and explore the imaginative space of fairy tales in a safe way, this collection of stories acted as an escape for children who were thrust into maturity because of the violent era they experienced. After acknowledging the scholarly virtues of Macmillan and Peterson, as well as their extensive contributions to the war effort overseas, it should be recognized that the production of Canadian Wonder Tales was their contribution to the Canadian war effort at home.

Further Reading:

The Complete Collection – Canadian Wonder Tales by Cyrus Macmillan

Works Cited:

Cooper, John A. Men of Canada. Montreal : Canadian Historical Co., 1901. Internet Archive. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Feuerverger, Grace. “Fairy Tales and Other Stories as Spiritual Guides for Children of War: An Auto-Ethnographic Perspective.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality 15.3 (2010): 233–245. EBSCOhost. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Fleer, Marilyn. “Emotions in Imaginative Situations: The Valued Place of Fairytales for Supporting Emotion Regulation.” 20.3 (2013): 240–259. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

“George Sheringham, R.D.I.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 86.4435 (1937): ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Haase, Donald. “Children, War, and the Imaginative Space of Fairy Tales.” The John Hopkins University Press: The Lion and the Unicorn 24.3 (2000): 360–377. ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb 2014.

“John Lane’s New Books.” The Saturday Review 23 Nov. 1918 : 16–16. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Macmillan, Cyrus. Canadian Wonder Tales. Illustrated by George Sheringham. Second Edition. New York: John Lane Company, 1918. Print.

Macmillan, Cyrus. McGill and Its Story, 1821-1921. New York: John Lane Company, 1921. ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Ord, Priscilla, and Carpenter, Carole Henderson. “Canadian Children’s Literature: A Cultural Mirror.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 2.3 (1977): 3–6. Project MUSE. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Pratt, Viola. “Classic Canadian Legends.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current) 10 Dec. 1955. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

“The Fly Leaf.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current) 17 Nov. 1956. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

“The Honourable Cyrus Macmillan, P.C.” Parliament of Canada. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.