A Little History

The 1930s was the decade of the Great Depression.  Following the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, many people were out of work.  Most people didn’t have a lot of money to spend, but they still looked for ways to entertain themselves.  Prohibition ended in 1933, and people were able to buy and sell alcoholic drinks again.  Radio was a common form of entertainment, and people listened to radio plays, quiz shows, music, and the latest news and sports for free in their own homes.  Swing music was popular, and young people especially liked to go to dance halls.

People also liked to go to the movies, which were no longer silent ones.  The 1930s were part of the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Comedies were popular and helped to cheer people up during the hard times.  There were also a lot of musicals and gangster films.  Child stars, notably Shirley Temple, became popular.  Most of these movies were still black-and-white, but color film was used for a few major films by the end of the decade, particularly The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.  Walt Disney created his first full-length animated movie in 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Some of the candy bars that are still popular today were originally created in the 1930s, including Three Musketeers (which originally were sold in packs that included three pieces of candy with fillings in three different flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, but because of sugar rationing during World War II, the company started selling them with only chocolate filling, which is why they only come in one flavor today and Snickers.

Because many people were struggling for money, they weren’t able to buy their children many toys, and most of them were very simple.  Electronic toys were very limited, although there were electric train sets.  Some children’s toys, such as dolls, were made out of celluloid, a precursor to more modern forms of plastic.  Most toys were made out of metal, wood, or cloth.  Some board games that are still popular today, such as Scrabble, Sorry!, and Monopoly came from the 1930s.

In children’s literature, series books were popular, and the Stratemeyer Syndicate (which already produced many series) began publishing the Nancy Drew series.  It was very successful, and in many ways, became the standard for the “girl detective” mystery genre.  Books in the series were produced for decades after, although the original Nancy Drew series took some of its inspiration from the Ruth Fielding Series and did not have as many books as the Judy Bolton series, which also emerged in the 1930s, written by a single author, not a syndicate.  Judy Bolton was not quite as popular as Nancy Drew, which is why some modern readers haven’t heard of it, and the series was not continued by other authors.  However, Judy Bolton still has a following in modern times, and some people believe that Judy Bolton is really more realistic than Nancy Drew and a better role model for girls.  Some books in the Judy Bolton series are rare collectors’ items.

The Great Depression ended when the United States joined the war effort in World War II.

Fiction Books

General Fiction


Betsy and Eddie Books

The everyday adventures of a group of neighborhood children. By Carolyn Haywood. 1939-1986.



Hardy Boys Mysteries

Two brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, solve mysteries in their East Coast town of Bayport and around the world.  By Franklin W. Dixon, A Stratemeyer Syndicate series.  1927-Present.

Nancy Drew Mysteries

Nancy Drew encounters and solves mysteries with her friends in her hometown of River Heights and around the world.  By Carolyn Keene, A Stratemeyer Syndicate series.  1930-Present.

Ruth Fielding Series

An orphan girl in the early 20th century grows up to become the owner of her own film company in Hollywood.  Along the way, she solves mysteries with her friends at school, on vacation, and later, on filming locations, and helps the war effort during World War I.  A Stratemeyer Syndicate series. 1913-1934.


Historical Fiction


Susan is a little girl during the 1800s, and she and her family make the journey from Kentucky to Indiana in a covered wagon.  She shares her adventures with her beloved doll, Abigail. By Portia Howe Sperry and Lois Donaldson.

Picture Books

The Five Chinese Brothers

Brothers with super-human powers save one of their brothers, who is sentenced to be executed.  Based on an old folktale.  By Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese.


Interesting Facts

Children born in this decade in the United States:

Were born before World War II (although not before the rise of Nazis in Germany and the beginnings of German invasions of other countries, so that may depend on perspective).  Some of them were the children of people who would serve in the armed forces during that war.  They were among the youngest people who really could remember Pearl Harbor.

Because they were born during the Great Depression, many of them had more austere early childhoods than those born in later decades.  Their parents would have taught them the values of learning to make do and being careful with money.

Those born during the first half of the decade would have strong memories of World War II, although some of the ones born at the end of the decade might not remember much about it later.  The older ones would remember the creation and use of atomic weapons at the end of the war, and fear of their future use would be a major influence in their later lives and attitudes.

They would have been children and teens at the beginning of the Cold War (about 6 to 15 years old) and would be adults by the time that the Cold War drew to an end at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the early 1990s.  All of those born during the 1930s would be about 50 to 59 years old at the time that the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989.  Because they grew up during Cold War, they would have been raised with strong anti-communist feelings.

The would all remember a time before space flight.  All of them would have been adults at the time of the moon landing at the end of the 1960s and would remember it afterward.

They would all would be adults when Hawaii and Alaska were admitted as states of the United States in 1959.  The youngest ones would have been about 20 years old at the time.  During the early part of their lives, there were only 48 states.

Throughout their lives, they would see many changes in the world and become comfortable with a variety of new technologies, seeing rapid technological changes such as:

  • from records to cassette tapes to cds to music purchased electronically with no physical copies
  • from their first television sets in black-and-white to color television to vhs tapes to dvds to movies and television streamed online
  • increasing computer usage and the progression from floppy disks of various sizes to cds of computer games and software to downloads and updates for computer programs managed entirely through the Internet
  • from corded phones to cordless phones to cell phones to smart phones that do far more than just make phone calls

Many of these changes would have happened when they were adults.  Their children and grandchildren would be even more comfortable with technology than they were, having grown up with forms that their parents wouldn’t have had during their earliest years.

They did not have home computers or video games when they were young, and their children might not have had them during their youth either, but their grandchildren would.

The World Wide Web would not be available on home computers until the 1990s, when they were in their 50s and 60s.  Computer usage in general would have increased in popularity as they progressed through their working lives.  For the first part of their lives, when they needed something typed, it was done on a typewriter.  If they needed two copies of something, they would either have to type using a sheet of carbon paper between a blank sheet and the page they were currently typing in order to make a second copy or just type the entire page twice over.  Mistakes were either corrected with correcting fluid or the entire page simply had to be retyped until it was completely correct.  This would be something that their children and grandchildren would have little or no experience doing.

All children born in the 1930s would remember times when people didn’t own television sets and much of their home entertainment would have come from radio and non-electronic forms of entertainment.  Some of their families may have purchased their first home tv sets during the 1940s, but television broadcasting was new, and many families purchased their first television sets during the 1950s.  Color tv would not become common until the 1960s.  VCRs wouldn’t come into vogue until the 1970s. Some of them may have rented their first VCRs from video stores rather than owning them themselves.  Before they had VCRs of their own, they just watched their favorite shows when they were on tv, at the time they aired, and if they missed them, they simply missed them.  This was a simple fact of life that would change significantly later, eventually becoming almost unknown by their grandchildren.

All of them were already adults around the turn of the new millennium, all of them older than 60 years old.  Most of them had children and grandchildren of their own at the time.

As adults, everyone born in this decade would be old enough to understand the events of September 11, 2001 at the time it happened and remember them forever after.

They were born during a time when schools in the United States were segregated, and many of them were finishing their education around the time things were changing.  They would be among the last to attend schools before desegregation became official.  Racial makeup of churches and other religious institutions would vary by religion and region.  Years later, they would have strong memories of times when there were separate bathrooms or drinking fountains for different races in the United States or when people of different races weren’t allowed into certain restaurants or other public places.  They would have been in their 20’s and 30’s at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, and some of them were among those who took part in it.

Other Resources

For more about 1930s culture:

Retrowaste — 1930s

Events, statistics, entertainment, fashion, and fads.

The People History — 1930s

Major events, timeline, stats, fashion, and trends.

Wikipedia — 1930s

Other Lists of 1930s children’s books:

Classic Children’s Books By The Decade: 1930s

Goodreads — Best Children’s Books of the 1930s