Illustrations for Soviet children (and postcards for Christmas!) : the December 2016 Slavonic item of the month

‘Kniga dlia detei 1881-1939’ (Books for children, 1881-1939; S950.a.200.4173-4174) is a huge two-volume set which contains reproductions of excerpts from beautifully illustrated Russian children’s books.  It was produced in 2009 but is a only a recent arrival in the University Library.

The two volumes (right) and a winter scene (left).

The set is based on the collection of a New York Russian emigre.  Aleksandr Lur’e (or Sasha Lurye) has collected hundreds upon hundreds of late imperial and early Soviet children’s books, a great many of which researchers would struggle to track down in libraries today.  The two volumes follow a roughly chronological order in terms of the books their sections study.

Volume 1’s contents

  • Education through beauty : the establishment of illustrated children’s books
  • The artel “Segodnia (Today)”. Jewish children’s books. “A Suprematist tale…” VKhUTEMAS
  • Continuing the traditions of the “World of Art” in children’s books in the first decade of Soviet power
  • Kuz’ma Petrov-Vodkin. David Shterenberg. Illustrators of the works of Vladimir Maiakovskii and Daniil Kharms.

Volume 2’s contents:

  • The new aesthetic of children’s books : the Leningrad school in the early 1920s
  • The 1920s : “A golden age of illustrated books”
  • “Industrial” children’s books
  • Photography and photo montage in books for children and young people
  • “The particular nature” of book art in the early 1930s

Volume 2 also contains the set’s main bibliography.  This lists all the publications wholly or partially reproduced in the two volumes.  The bibliography is ordered first by date (year) and each year’s list is then provided in alphabetical order of the name of the artist, rather than the textual author.  The 10-page list makes it immediately clear that the two volumes concentrate primarily on the Soviet period, with only three titles listed for the 1880s and none for the 1890s, for example, while the 1920s cover five whole pages.

Sample illustrations from ‘Kniga dlia detei’, celebrating, for example, ice cream (top right), Lenin and children (bottom left), and trams (next to ice cream).  Note the Yiddish title, bottom right, which is about a factory.

The set is a lovely addition to our collections and will provide readers with an eye-catchingly produced introduction to illustrated Soviet children’s books.  Given the Soviet emphasis, however, it has been a slight struggle to crowbar Christmas into this December Slavonic item of the month post, although a couple of winter scenes can be seen in the image collages above.

To finish, then, on a more festively relevant note, we turn to some pre-Soviet Christmas postcards from the Catherine Cooke collection.  Happy Christmas from all of us in the European section of the Collections and Academic Liaison team!

Mel Bach

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