A couple of weeks ago over on Creative Review, Jim Sutherland wrote a really interesting post about designers’ predilection for making children’s books. He suggested it was a way to let one’s visual imagination run wild in contrast with the daily grist of tightly prescribed identity work.
But what perhaps Jim didn’t explore was the importance of children’s books in the long term; we can learn a lot about a society by what they show to their youngsters. This point is illustrated perfectly in a new book by Julian Rothenstein and Olga Budashevskaya called Inside The Rainbow: Russian Children’s Literature 1920-1935.
It includes more than 250 terrific examples of book design from this period, where the artists’ imaginations were allied with the rise of Suprematist and Futurist vernacular as well as certain socio-political pressures (although these were far less oppressive than in later Soviet years).
It’s a celebration of values not readily associated with Russian aesthetics – colour, vibrancy and charm – and a series of contemporary photographs which run throughout roots these titles in the real lives of their target readers.
In his foreword author Phillip Pullman calls the collection “incomparably rich” and wonders: “What were they doing, these commissars and party secretaries, to allow this wonderland of modern art to grow under their very noses? I expect the rule that applies to children’s books was just as deeply interiorised in the Soviet Union as it has been in the rest of the world: they don’t matter. They can be ignored. They’re not serious.”
He adds: “For a few years Russian children’s books were free of the darkness that descended over the Soviet Union, and the light they shed, a lovely primary-coloured geometrical wonderland-light sparkling with every conceivable kind of wit and brilliance and fantasy and fun, is here in this book still.”
Inside the Rainbow published by Redstone Press is out on October 10.