A tale for healthy living in 1920s Czechoslovakia : the November 2015 Slavonic item of the month

The November 2015 Slavonic item of the month is a small Czech addition to the Waddleton collection of colour-printed books.  Pohádka o zdravých dětech (A tale of healthy children; Waddleton.e.7.33) was printed in Prague in 1923.  Its verse and drawings tell its young readers of the importance of a healthy way of life.

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Front cover (and title page) of the book.

The story is framed by a doctor telling children about a country where small children never get ill, “where every child has laughter in their eyes and rosy cheeks”.  He then goes on to describe the healthy lifestyle of these children, with cleanliness, exercise, rest, and good diet much promoted.

The book is obviously didactic, designed to encourage small children (and those reading it with them) to live healthily.  The final two verses of the book read “[these children] always cared about their health well and merrily, as the Red Cross teaches children and grown-ups to do.  They knew not the illnesses which are found in the world; live as they do and you will be healthy!”

The Red Cross is mentioned elsewhere too; the volume is described on its cover as “knížka Čs. červeneho kříže” – a book of the Czechoslovak Red Cross.  The first president of the organisation was Alice Masaryk, the daughter of Czechoslovakia’s first president.  It was formed in 1919 and oversaw work to improve the often appalling lot of people in the aftermath of the First World War and related conflicts.  Masaryk wrote in 1921 that the “Red Cross wants to increase the standard of health of the people … Health care alone will not suffice, for insufficiently nourished human beings are indifferent to concerns of hygiene.  During wartimes the activities of the Red Cross were limited to the care of the wounded, but today it must take care of a whole nation.” (from Alice Garrigue Masaryk, 1879-1966610:1.c.95.196).

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The illustration accompanying verses praising a healthy diet.

There are few traces online of Antonie Tyrpeklová, who wrote the text in the book.  The Czech National Library gives only one other title under her name: Snílkové z předměstí (Dreamers from the suburbs).  The artist who illustrated the book, however, is better known. Zdenka Burghauserová’s entry in the 1947-1955 Nový slovník československých výtvarných umělců (New dictionary of Czechoslovak artists; S400:05.b.9.265-267) describes her as a painter first and foremost, whose work expressed “the inner world of modern Czech women”.  By the time of the book’s publication, Burghauserová (1894-1960) had already had several exhibitions, and her work as a book illustrator is mentioned in the dictionary as a very minor line of activity.  Among her works featured on the Czech Visual Artists site, however, some paintings of children can be seen, with My Jarmilek particularly reminiscent of the style seen in the book.

This delightful book was accompanied by another Czech addition to the Waddleton.  Also a tale to encourage good living, Bacilínek (The little Bacillus; Waddleton.b.7.89is for rather older childen, its colour illustrations confined to a few plates.

The Slavonic item of the month feature aims to celebrate, through examination of particular pieces, the diversity and riches of Cambridge University Library’s Slavonic collections.  It has been running since April 2013.  Items featured in previous months can be found here on the Slavonic webpages.

Mel Bach

 

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