Even if you do not read Russian, you can guess what this book is about. In this colourful book about the circus, clowns with red noses, funny musicians, wrestlers and heavyweights, gymnasts and trained animals populate the pages. The book starts with a witty advertisement announcing the first Russian performance of the ‘Tsaniboni Company’ on their world tour.
Look at the pictures
Look at the pictures carefully and see how dynamic they are. People and objects look real, although they are composed of colourful blocks rather than drawn with one line. Everything has its own character.
People, animals and even objects appear to move, and we are excited about watching them do so. Lebedev’s pictures are as active as their young viewers. Like them, the artist managed to notice and capture little things that adults often don't catch.
Each scene is described in two or four lines in verse. It is difficult to say whether the artist Vladimir Lebedev illustrated Samuil Marshak’s poem, or if the poet created short commentaries to Lebedev’s comic strip.
One page has not been displayed here because it contains racist caricatures.
Why was this book created?
The Soviet state promoted education and entertainment for children. Circus and film were considered very important, as were bright, bold picture books like this one. Even illiterate people could enjoy and understand these art forms. Before the age of TV and computers, it was common for small theatrical companies to be on constant tours.
In 1924, a special Children’s Department of the Russian State Publishing house was established in Leningrad (the city now known as St Petersburg). A young talented artist, Vladimir Lebedev, was appointed its head. The artist had already been praised for a number of books for children published in the early 1920s.
Soviet children’s books
The language of images has always been very important for people. Images can help people to learn how to read and write, but they can also be used to communicate simple messages and stir emotions. Egyptian pyramids, religious paintings or propaganda posters are very similar in the way they influence their viewers.
The early Soviet state was determined to promote the communist vision of the future, and many talented artists also believed in it. That is why they were happy to collaborate with state publishing houses and create books for children, where they could experiment with their radical futurist ideas about images, typography and links between pictures and words. However, the aim to raise strong citizens and young communists did not go well with experimentations. Experiments require freedom of mind and the communist ideology, under Stalin, restricted this. The golden age of Soviet children’s books did not last long.