A New Childhood: what was the world reading?

Early Soviet picture books defined an era for many readers - now we want you to help us look at the global picture

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  • Michael Czerwinski
  • Exhibitions, Feature

Page from Elementarz, illustrated by Jerzy Karolak

A New Childhood, House of Illustration's current exhibition of early illustrated Soviet children's literature, has already sparked off some discussion about the importance of this body of work in defining the character of a very specific cultural and political landscape, as well as the impact it set rippling through the rest of the world - as Olivia Ahmad explores in her curator's blog.

From Alphabet of Metric Units - Olga Deineko and Nikolai Troshin

One question that we're looking forward to addressing in the public programme supporting the exhibition is: what was the rest of the world doing in the early 20th century whilst Soviet Russia was radically reinventing the aesthetic of visual communication for children? 

From About Two Squares by El Lissitzky

We are interested in glimpsing the scope of diversity, the level of direct influence, the amount of cross fertilisation occurring across Europe as well as between continents in in the 20s and 30s. We're also interested in the ongoing story of these books - where they came from, what they meant to people, how they went on to affect later generations of artists and publishers.

To illustrate - this is Elementarz, a book that we were taught Polish from in England in the 1970s. Even though the book was produced in the 60s, it still carries elements of the 1930s style that somehow managed to remain among the displaced Polish communities after the war. Here's a page that depicts the collectivisation of agriculture in the early decades of the Soviet Union, with machinery turning the landscape into a place where all could work together:

It's a small piece of personal and social history that forms part of a larger story - one of illustration drawing links between times and places in a sometimes expected, sometimes surprising, always very human way.

Have you got illustrated heirlooms, cherished children's books, that reflect your family's cultural heritage? We'd love to see examples of books from all around the world to add to a blog post shared towards the end of the current exhibition in September.

Come and drop us a line on twitter if you have anything you'd like to share. All you need is a photo of the cover and/or some pages from your vintage children's book, with a brief description of where it's from and why it's important to you. We look forward to seeing your stories.

Michael Czerwinski
Public Programme Manager