Enigmatic Dadaist animals, outlandish squared people in telltale situations - these expressionistic illustrations for children's books come from the paintbrushes, pencils and markers of Poland's most-known postwar illustrators
Who doesn't get lured in by a book with more pictures than text? Children's books - those childhood equivalents of bulky coffee-table decorating albums - continue to be the purview of great illustrators and observant writers. A children's book has always been a marvelous way to tell an educational story, and in our look back at the People's Republic of Poland, Culture. pl revisits favourite picks of parents and kids. Their popularity remains fresh, they've been republished - and look out for famous names that appear more than once: Henryk Tomaszewski, Bohdan Butenko, Janusz Stanny.
Jan Marcin Szancer illustrates for Jan Brzechwa
Master of saturated watercolours, his pristine illustrations blend realism with feats of the imagination. The serene, blissful forest life turns into a theatrical spectacle when the flowing edges of his paintbrush add movement to its sapient inhabitants. Jan Marcin Szancer's old-fashioned elegance of drawing is symbolic of the prewar period when he made his debut, yet he went on in the PRL era to become one of the best-known names of the Polish school of illustration.
Szancer illustrated over 240 books, among them works by Jan Brzechwa such as Brzechwa Dzieciom (pictured) and Academy of Mr Kleks, Julian Tuwim's The Locomotive and The Turnip, Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales and Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio. Wishing to cheer up the neverending look-alike pages of Poland's compulsory reads, he brought to life protagonists in Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz, Aleksander Fredro's The Revenge, Bolesław Prus's Pharaoh and the Polish editions of Tolstoy and Pushkin.
Sneak a peak at more illustrations by Szancer
- Brzechwa dzieciom first came out in 1955 (publisher: Nasza Księgarnia)
Bohdan Butenko illustrates for Julian Tuwim
Mister Maluśkiewicz and the Whale / Pan Maluśkiewicz i wieloryb is not a variation on Pinocchio that bypasses the role of the wooden wannabe boy, it's the story of a tiny little man who travels in a walnut shell to meet the enormous sea creature. Butenko was unbeatable in the line of his humorous art and his pioneering style became a staple of children's book art in Poland. His work continues to fascinate, and the curators of the latest, largest exhibition dedicated to his work (in Kraków's Art Bunker) noticed that,
In his projects, books turn into artistic objects in which all the elements - the bookbinding technique, the typography, the illustrations and photographs create a multi-layered artistic narration.
- Mister Maluśkiewicz and the Whale / Pan Maluśkiewicz i wieloryb first came out in 1956 and was re-published in 2009 (publisher: Wydawnictwo Dwie Siostry)
Gabriel Rechowicz illustrates for Jerzy Broszkiewicz
Jerzy Broszkiewicz's The Big, the Bigger and the Biggest / Wielka, większa i największa was first published in 1960. The gradable titular object is an adventure faced by the main characters of the book, Ika and Groszek, who discover a worn-out car in their yard. Old Captain Opel is a self-driving, puzzle-solving vehicle. The popular film made from the book came out in 1962.
Gabriel Rechowicz, the sketching talent, also concocted poignant interiors and created set design for Andrzej Wajda's Everything for Sale (1969) and the interiors of Warsaw's famous Supersam supermarket.
- The Big, the Bigger and the Biggest / Wielka, większa i największa first came out in 1960 (publisher: Nasza Księgarnia) and was re-published in 2012 (publisher: Wydawnictwo Dwie Siostry)
Janusz Stanny - O malarzu rudym jak cegła
Simplicity and directness conveyed through clear lines from over 50 years ago. O malarzu rudym jak cegła, which loosely and unpoetically translates into: About a Painter with Brick-Red Hair is a "simple and witty, perfectly composed book" the publisher comments, which Janusz Stanny illustrated and wrote. Apart from the fortunes of the red-haired painter, he thought up The Tale of King Dardanel / Baśń o królu Dardanelu and Horse and Cat / Koń i kot. His edgy, high-strung lines were influenced by the coaching of his teacher, the pioneer of the Polish poster school, Henryk Tomaszewski. His keen eye and sharp pencil brought him far: Stanny's painter got published in China.
- O malarzu rudym jak cegła first came out in 1961 and was re-published in 2013 (publisher: Wytwórnia)
Bohdan Butenko illustrates for Wiktor Woroszylski
Putting on a home-made native-American feather headdress and grabbing the neatly illustrated You Can Be an Indian Too / I ty zostaniesz Indianinem (1960), any Polish kid could pretend he's taking part in frontier adventures. Mirek, the book's protagonist, sets off into the new world through a mysterious tomahawk left behind by someone who calls himself his uncle from America. The picture shows Mr Kubiak looking for the missing tomahawk. From then on it's quills from porcupines, feathers from eagles, and skins from deer. Butenko and Woroszylski worked on different projects made for older kids.
Henryk Tomaszewski illustrates for Wiktor Woroszylski
Despite the title of the book, alleging that Gabryś is not capricious (Gabryś, nie kapryś is a play on words and means Gabryś, not Capricious) the main character of Woroszylski's poem is clearly dissatisfied with receiving a book instead of a toy car:
- Here's a new book for you, my boy.
- A book? I'd rather have a toy car.
- We're going on a journey.
- In a different direction yes, but not in that one.
- Look, what a cute little cat.
- I prefer a dog with a long tail.
Henryk Tomaszewski, the famous poster artist, only worked on a couple of children's books, which makes this publication a rarity - a "special treat not only for capricious children, but also the literary and aesthetically picky adults", as the book's new publisher comments.
- Gabryś, not Capricious / Gabryś, nie kapryś was re-published in 2013 (publisher: Dwie Siostry)
More illustrations on the publishers website.
Mieczysław Piotrowski - Bunny Grey Ears
Thick, opaque lines, toned-down colours and curvaceous shapes help the little grey ears escape cruel hunters. The illustrations and accompanying text (made in 1976) are the work of a one-man team - Mieczysław Piotrowski. This writer, illustrator and scriptwriter transformed the Bunny Grey Ears' / Zajączek szare uszko's story into a comic-like publication subtitled Is This a Book With Pictures? (pictured).
The underrated artist authored another two books for children: Ballade About a Dentist / Ballada o Dentyście (1966) and Mushrooms Galloping on Horseback / Grzyby galopują na koniach.
Janusz Stanny illustrates for Antoni Marianowicz
Ranging from the absurd to the nonsensical, Janusz Stanny's Strange Man is just as strange as Marianowicz intended him to be in the Strange Man / Dziwny Pan poem from the collection Once Upon a Time Four Wise Men / Raz czterej mędrcy. The one depicted by words has a double-bass case on his back and a green herring in his hand - and Stanny's gestural lines, shapes and colours convey his abnormality. Marianowicz, who was also a translator, must have had a real nack for mocking all efforts to find meaning in anything - he took it upon himself to translate into Polish the poems of Edward Lear, the father of nonsense, as well as Alice in Wonderland.
- Once Upon a Time Four Wise Men / Raz czterej mędrcy was re-published in 2011 (publisher: Dwie Siostry)
Bohdan Butenko illustrates Krystyna Boglar
Disclosing secrets on how to find someone who got lost in the forest, leave the house without your parents hearing you, and teaching that in the countryside one goes to sleep at the same time as the chickens (pictured below), Klementyna lubi kolor czerwony / Klementyna Likes the Colour Red is an adventure-detective story entirely drawn out in red.
Klementyna's antics are not the only feat of the imagination accomplished by the duo Boglar - Butenko. The comic Gucio and Cezar follows the greedy hippo Gucio and Cezar the prudent dog. Side by side they meet pirates, cowboys, find spaceships and kidnapped princesses.
- Klementyna Likes the Colour Red / Klementyna lubi kolor czerwony was re-published in 2006 (publisher: Dwie Siostry)
Stasys Eidrigevičius illustrates for Zbigniew Batko
His attitude is nowhere near the cool and ruse owned by the white rabbit with a New York accent, but this little carrot muncher's vivid imagination made him compete for the hearts of Polish Alice in Wonderland fans.
Zbigniew Batko's Back Again, or the Disastrous Results of Reading the Wrong Books / Z powrotem, czyli fatalne skutki czytania niewłaściwych lektur [editor's translation], gracefully illustrated by Lithuanian graphic artist Stasys Eidrigevičius - who's lived in Poland since 1980 - is a story for young and old that was first published in 1984. Batko is best remembered for his work as a translator from English to Polish, and Z powrotem / Back again is his only book for children.
Mirosław Pokora illustrates for Stanisław Wygodzki
This majestic, snotty giraffe only drinks out of expensive glassware and the best quality porcelain. She works at the docks as a heavy-load crane but decides to take a trip to Warsaw. A Giraffe Came to Visit Me / Odwiedziła mnie żyrafa (1967) is the only children's book written by Stanisław Wygodzki, the poet, writer and translator of Jewish and German poetry. The minimal, geometric shapes and lines are by Mirosław Pokora, a well-known children's books illustrator (Mira Lobe's Grandmother on the Apple Tree / Babcia na jabłoni, Wiktor Woroszylski Globe in Powder / Globus w proszku).
- A Giraffe Came to Visit Me / Odwiedziła mnie żyrafa first came out in 1967 and was re-published in 2007 (publisher: Dwie Siostry)
Zbigniew Rychlicki illustrates for Ludwik Jerzy Kern
In his collection of poems for children, The Smart Pillow / Mądra poduszka (1977), Ludwik Jerzy Kern animates a thin-legged stork who walks around the city of Łódź and a family of Rhinos who ride in a carriage. The fast-moving strokes of Zbigniew Rychlicki's paintbrush give the illustrations a lot buzz and swish. The paintbrush artist is also the man behind Poland's all-time favourite bear, the children's celebrity Miś Uszatek / Teddy Floppy-Ear, who was the start of a hit bedtime cartoon in 1975.
Kern, known as a contributor for the national magazine Przekrój, authored others books for children - Ferdinand the Great / Ferdynand Wspaniały and I Kindly Ask the Elephant / Proszę słonia [editor's translation]. Both were made into bedtimes cartoons.
Józef Wilkoń illustrates for Wiktor Woroszylski
A lot of laughs, a bit of sadness, this is the story of a little mammoth / Dużo śmiechu, trochę smutku, to historia o mamutku, and thus begins Lutek's story. Though the Polish title has the added value of rhyming, the cave-like, ancestral drawings of the mammoth are universally readable. Lutek is a sweet, cheerful animal with a vivid imagination. The plot plays out by its title because others mock and tease him. But Woroszylski doesn't leave poor old Lutek only the experience of sadness - he turns out to be a hero because he spots an approaching iceberg and tells everyone to escape. The book is illustrated by the master of cartoon animals, Józef Wilkoń, famous for wide, fast strokes of his brush and washed-out water colours. Our Lutek, on the other hand, has the air of cave painting.
- A lot of laughs, a bit of sadness, this is the story of a little mammoth / Dużo śmiechu, trochę smutku, to historia o mamutku was published by Wytwórnia Publishing House in 2009
See more examples of gorgeous illustrations to Polish children's books at www.book.hipopotamstudio.pl and www.polskailustracjadladzieci.pl
If you liked post-war children's books, have a look at the first cartoons broadcast on Polish television.
Author: based on the article by Mikołaj Gliński for Culture.pl, translated and edited by MJ 24.10.2013