Hot off the American presses comes this translated collection of three illustrated texts from the 1920s golden age of Soviet children’s-book publishing.
The titular text, by Mayakovsky, stands as the first chapter in this collection of tales, all translated by Ostashevsky. It tells the story of a little boy who wants a horse from a toyshop. The shop clerk tells him and his father, “No way, / We’re all out of horses today. / Still, / a horse of any color can / Be made by / a master artisan.” They then go to six different workers to get materials and specific expertise for building the toy horse. This story, like the other two in the book (Mandelstam’s “Two Trams” and Kharms’ “Play”), centers on themes of industry, modernity, and the dignity of work. In all cases, the art far outshines the text, which has a stilted sound, possibly due to poetics lost in translation. But pictures by Popova, Ender, and Konashevich, respectively, are wondrous to behold in their own right and as precursors to mid-20th-century Western picture-book art. Popova’s human figures are big, burly examples of Soviet manhood; their tools and the gathering team appear in brightly colored squares that offset their bulk. Ender’s gray, black, red, and blue illustrations are almost abstract in their depictions of the titular trams and their tracks. Konashevich’s figures are fluid and likely the most conventional-looking for modern American audiences.
A glimpse into Soviet children’s-book illustration; likely of more interest to scholars than to children. (Picture book. 6 & up)