Cbr14bingo Minds I think this review fits the category since the book explores the life and work of artist Miroslav Sasek. It is the story of a creative mind.
When I was little, my parents kept our books in a cupboard right outside my bedroom. I used to sneak out after bedtime, grab some books and bring them back into my room to read. Among those books were several of Miroslav Sasek’s “This Is …” travel books for children. I loved them and still have a few of them. Paris, London, Rome and Venice were definitely in that cupboard, and I think that they inspired me later in life to study foreign languages and history, and to travel to the places he showed in his books. Sasek’s art in the “This Is …” series is distinctive, eye catching, and playful, evocative of 1960s advertising and cartoons, but with some collage work and beautiful, precise renderings of famous landmarks mixed in. The Illustrators: Miroslav Sasek provides some background on the man and information about how his art evolved from his youth until his death at the age of 63 in 1980.
Sasek was born in Prague in 1916 and was drawn to art early in life. He studied architecture for a while but really was more interested in drawing and painting. As a young man in the 1930s, he took on commissions from book publishers, newspapers, and journals, and illustrated brochures for companies such as Wagon-Lits/Thomas Cook travel agency. There appears to be no information about Sasek’s life during the war years when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, which I find a bit curious. A search online for more information revealed nothing either. Once the war ended, Sasek enrolled in art school in Paris and began to take on illustration jobs in Europe as well as continuing to do work for a publisher in Czechoslovakia. The Illustrators: Miroslav Sasek provides images of some of Sasek’s early work, including his drawings for several children’s books that were published in Czechoslovakia. While they contains the same bold lines and detail of his more famous later works, it is clear that his style was still in development. In 1948, when the communists took over the Czech government, Sasek remained in Paris, never to return. His Czech publisher was arrested and Sasek’s plans for a children’s book about visiting Paris was put on hold. Sasek and his wife moved to Munich and worked for Radio Free Europe. In addition to participating in on-air broadcasts, Sasek helped produce leaflets that would be dropped over Czechoslovakia.
In the 1950s, Sasek and his wife divorced, and he began to concentrate on his idea for a children’s guide to Paris. A friend helped him shop the book to publishers, with London based W.H. Allen producing This is Paris in 1959. It was an international hit, and Sasek began writing more travel books for children, generally putting out two per year for the next decade. This is truly impressive, given that Sasek engaged in months of research for each book. When Sasek chose a city or country for a book, he would move to that place for 3-4 months, taking in the sights and drawing sketches. For each book, he produced 80 sketches, but it’s more than the images that make his books so wonderful. Sasek also wrote the text for his books. As The Illustrators notes, Sasek’s success was rooted in “his pioneering exploration of narrative non-fiction in picture book form.”
…Sasek’s use of rhythm, pace and word-image synergy in a non-fiction context was well ahead of its time. He avoids creating a disparate collection of visual ‘facts’ by employing the parallel themes of ‘up and down’ and ‘big and small’ to tell the story … with verbal and visual continuity.
Sasek had a knack for seeing cities the way a child might, and focusing on details that would delight young readers, whether it be modes of transportation, clothing, or unusual details such as the hotels in San Francisco that washed change before handing it to customers. And he presented this information with delight, wonder, respect. Different people and countries are interesting! And visiting them can have a beneficial impact on us. I had forgotten until this book reminded me that Sasek’s books begin with a drawing of him in a suit carrying his portfolio going to the place he is drawing (shown on this book’s cover), and they end with a drawing of him as he leaves, showing something of the city/country’s impact on him. As Deborah Cohen wrote in a piece about Sasek for The Atlantic a few years ago, Sasek, through his books, encouraged children to be curious and travel beyond their own known world. Doing so is good for the individual and good for the world. Sasek’s success as a travel writer for children spurred representatives of many cities and countries to reach out to him to ask if he would please write about them next. Sasek was given red carpet treatment in many of the places he visited, too.
Throughout the ‘60s and into the early 1970s, Sasek continued drawing and writing, ultimately creating 18 “This Is” books. During this period he also collaborated on other projects, and he apparently had dreams of working in oils, but his legacy is his brilliant work as a travel writer for children. I’m going to revisit some of his books in my next review to see how they hold up 50-60 years after they were first published. This particular book, The Illustrators: Miroslav Sasek was very interesting to me because of my love for his work. I think it might also have value for those whose interests lie in children’s lit and publishing.