I didn’t know the history of children’s literature until I was accepted into Hamline’s MFAC program. Before my first residency, I read Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer. I soon followed it with Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History by Peter Hunt and American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to The Beast Within by Barbara Bader. All were informative, exhaustive, and helped me understand as a fledgling author/illustrator where my stories lay in that canon. But, they all focused on the Western European and American tradition.
Needless to say, I couldn’t resist reading Another History of the Children’s Picture Book from Soviet Lithuania to India by Giedre Jankeviciute and V. Geetha. The book offered a look at the children’s literature and publishing industry under the USSR’s influence from 1940-1990. The points that stuck with me were:
- The Soviet Union put time and resources into translating children’s stories into English and the numerous dialects and languages of India. They believed that children needed access to literature. They developed distribution and production methods on top of the extensive translations they were doing to get books into the hands off all children regardless of class.
- Lithuanian authors and illustrators, despite the Soviet censorship, pushed the boundaries of that censorship. They created books that imitated the Soviet aesthetic, adapted stories from other countries and cultures, and were a place of subtle dissention. Although Lithuanian publishing was under scrutiny and censorship, it was not as heavily monitored as other areas therefore artists were able to find places for their creativity.
- The stories that were published during this era promoted the communist ideal and the technological progress of the USSR while highlighting the pitfalls of capitalism. The illustrations supported the stories by depicting the strength, unity, and progress through a social realist lens. When censorship was lightened, illustrators moved away from social realism and began experimenting with photomontage, pop art, and folk art.
- The publishing industry in the Soviet era did not solely publish books by Soviet and communist authors and illustrators. Some books from Western Europe and America were deemed appropriate. Some of which were Winnie the Pooh, Raggedy Anne, and a numerous of folk and fairy tales.
All I can say is Another History of Children’s Picture Book from Soviet Lithuania to India outlines the impact of children’s literature from industry to community within the Soviet sphere of influence. A great read that broadened my understanding of the global history of children’s picture books.
Bader, Barbara. American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within. New York: Macmillan, 1976. Print.
Hunt, Peter. Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.
Jankeviciute, Giedre and V. Geetha. Another History of the Children’s Picture Book from Soviet Lithuania to India. United Kingdom: Tara Books, 2017. Print
Lerer, Seth. Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.
Vanessa Harvey has been busy collecting stories since she graduated from Hamline in 2013. On graduation day, she accepted a coaching job in Wellington, New Zealand. Next she lived in Seattle. Then she volunteered at the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brazil. Then she was back in Seattle. She writes and illustrates around her multiple jobs. Nothing published, but she’s still creating.