Saturday, December 03, 2005

Memories of the Red sort

Growing up, I had fantastic picture books from the Soviet Union. They had been picked up by my mother from various pavements in Mumbai. They were scandalously cheap (50 paise to Rs. 2/-) and made delightful reading. The art was excellent, with breathtaking illustrations, and positively avant-garde design. My first brush with Tolstoy was through a book of poignant short stories with scratchy, brilliantly-rendered black and white illustrations. Chekhov’s Patch had the blue-grey-and-white tones of a Russian winter; and the dire moral in Pushkin’s narrative poem The Fisherman and the Goldfish was reinforced with beautifully chilling illustrations. There were jewel-bright Russian folk stories as well, with Baba Yaga and her gaudy house on its tall, birdlike legs. There was also the gossamer magic of Zhenya, the girl who swapped seven bread rolls for a multicoloured wish-fulfilling flower!

The greatest thing was that children in practically every part of the country could read these inexpensive, well-produced picture books in all languages. Far away in Gujarat, MP, interior Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and who-knows-where-else, there were kids from our generation reading them and lurhving them! But now the the Soviet Union is gone and so are the pavement book-stalls. You won’t find legendary piles of cheap picture books anymore. The big books stores haven’t heard of these and the House of Soviet Culture simply says nyet. Scouring pavements, we’ve found some gems: Patch; Kornei Chukovsky’s magical nonsense verse in Hindi; a lovely book about a baby called Mashenka; and the hilarious When daddy was a little boy…

This is a slightly altered excerpt from my article in Time Out, Mumbai
Click here if you want to see a few illustrations from some of our old books!

25 comments:

Rita said...

Hey A & A
You both touched a very precious memory line of mine. I grew up with soviet pic bks and all but forgotten about them till I read yr piece. I wd love to borrow yr collection to read and revive those moments.
Happy Anniversary to U 2
We turn 28 !!!! on the 6th of Dec

radhika said...

hi anita and amit! welcome to the world of blogging :-) i'm from mumbai too, now in uk.

i grew up reading some of the soviet books too. do you remember the story of the little boy who could not play his new trumpet (because his grandfather just died, i think)? i had been searching for the story online just recently.

will you also accept story submissions? i had written a children's story once but haven't sent it out to anyone yet.

Vinay Paleja said...

Hi Amit & Anita,

This is Vinay here. I've been searching for this book "When Daddy was a little boy" by Alexander Raskin. I had this book when I was a kid but lost it when i lent to a friend. I've been trying to find it everywhere with no luck. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks.

-Vinay.
vinaypaleja@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Hello Anita and Amit,
I have been trying in vain to find Alexander Raskin's When Daddy was a Little Boy. Can you give me some pointers as to where this may be available?

Thanks and best regards.
Ravi.
ravi_peravali@yahoo.com

SukanyaJuno said...

My daughter & son are growing up in the USA--here we get Dr.Seuss, Sandra Boynton, etc. But no Enid Blytons, no Russian Books!! Enid Blytons are easy to come by---I just go to Ebay or an Indian online store. Russians books are hard to find. So far i have not found any on Ebay. Those which I had as child are long gone (except for a few--like Visiting Grandpa and The Little Clay Hut. My mother also found an old tattred copy of when Daddy Was A Little Boy in Bengali. My nephew had one copy in English, which I borrowed and when my kids are older I will return it to him. One of my favourites was a story by Tolstoy--it was about a lion and a dog---the outer cover of the book was in blue and had a picture of a little girl and the illustrations were in black and white--this book was a collection of short stories. After a serious search on the net I found this story of the lion and a dog--didnot find the book, just this individual story. Without hesitation I purchased it!! Russian books bring back wonderful memories. It's a shame that Progress Publishers are no longer here to cater to the imagination of the young ones

MellowDrama said...

Hiya
Hey I can't believe it, a fellow Soviet Book lover. Well I am a writer too and yup I LOVED those books., Can you beat it, I found Adventures of Dennis online!!! Trying to find the others, you never know, Do drop by. Cheers!

Anon 21 said...

Yeah, I grew up reading those books. Baba Yaga, Lion and the Dog, Trasarevitch Ivan and the Grey Wolf and a host of other folk tales (Lithuanian, Latvian, Ukrainian, etc.). Incidentally here is a link to the adventures of Dunno:

http://home.freeuk.net/russica2/books/nez/book.html

Sanjeev Gupta said...

Its been around 20 years, i read the book "When daddy was a little boy" and it left an indelible impression on my mind. In some sense i still think myself to be somewhat like the little boy and hope to tell my incidences to my son or daughter some day the way author tells his little girl in the book.

For all the lovers of this book, i could manage to get the image of the front cover. Its enough to bring back the feeling of glossy touch of the cover and black / green cartoons.

http://cgi.ebay.pl/Raskin-WHEN-DADDY-WAS-A-LITTLE-BOY-wyd-1973_W0QQitemZ200127067247QQihZ010QQcategoryZ134800QQcmdZViewItem

metoo said...

i have always loved children's story books, finding well written books for children, has however become a rarity. Russian children's books were so imaginative full of depths in trivia say a seed growing into a baby plant described from a child's angle and illustrated with words and pictures...so naive and innocent. "When daddy was a little boy " was a great book..wish i could find it now, wish i had preserved it when i had it..wish such books would not be so rare....

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm looking for Sukunyajuno to compare notes about this book: "One of my favourites was a story by Tolstoy--it was about a lion and a dog---the outer cover of the book was in blue and had a picture of a little girl and the illustrations were in black and white--this book was a collection of short stories."

I have been searching for it. I remember a story of two sisters who had been gathering mushrooms and the younger one fell on the train tracks in front of an oncoming train. The train goes by and then she gets up and brushes herself off and collects her spilled mushrooms. Another is of a father who warns his children not to eat the plumbs, and when he finds that one is missing he says that plumbs have a stone that will harm the children. One child blurts out, "I threw the stone out of the window."

Does anyone else know the book? Thanks so much for your wonderful blog. Erica: royalquietdeluxe (at) gmail.com

Joanna said...

Hi Anita and Amit,

Was browsing around aimlessly and found this blogspot. I now live in Dubai but was a Bombay girl and loved the Russian Storybooks, just like the rest of you. I have been desperately searching for this one Russian children's storybook. It had a tomato red cover with the sketch of a little,blonde boy in the centre. The boy's name was Vanya and one of the Stories was called "Happy days are here again"and another one was "Grandson Vanya". I have actually spent 2 holidays to India only looking for this book.

Please, please let me know where I can get this book.

Thanks

Joanna

Nityanand said...

Hi Anita & Amit,
I was very much surprised when i found this blog.Myself and my brother used to read russian story books.We had a vast collection of books.While shifting to another place, my parents gave all those books to my cousins, who lost it,some of them r torn.As a parent I wanted to gift my children russian books especially "when my daddy was a little boy".But couldn't find one. Hope this time I will again search in mangalore & udupi, if i find those books i will surely let u know

matt said...

gged on this site...amazing how we all from different areas of the world are connected becasue of this sweet little book ...When daddy was a little boy. I have been trying to get this book for my kids but havent been successful. I remember growing up we were flooded by great Soviet books then ...their folklore and simple stories which really touched our hearts. Cant find any of those books in my ancestral home but would love to get a hand on them ...any tip would help.

Thanks for taking me back memory lane....

Mona-Matt

Greeshma said...

Hey A&A, I have been looking for the book - "When daddy was a little boy". I've read this book as a kid, and I'm looking for it so I can present it to my best friend. - Any chance you can scan the pages and put it online someplace??? I could make the book for my friend... Pls Pls Pls help... :)

Greeshma said...

Hi Anita & Amit... I have been searching for this book online... and that's how I came across this blog. I have read this book as a kid and have been searching for it so I could present it to my best friend on his birthday which is coming next month... Any chance u can scan it and put it online someplace? So I could design the book myself and give to my friend??? Pls pls pls lemme know if u can help...

Anita & Amit Vachharajani said...

dear vinay, ravi, greeshma,
we'd love to have scanned the book, but it's incredibly tough for us because we are very caught up with work - amit's illustrating and i'm writing this big informative book, and it's a crazy amount of work. not to forget our day job as parents! what spare time we have goes to that cause... sorry about this, but honestly, nothing can replicate the joy of a real book in your hands, so hit the used-book stalls in your city. i've often found the book there...
sorry again!

channi said...

It took me back the most fantastic days of my life. I grew up on a staple diet of USSR books. I've been scouring the net for many days. Atlast I founda pdf of visiting grandpa. Do anyone of your recollect anymore titles ?

Anonymous said...

Hi Joanna,
I remember the book you mentioned'Happy Days'.The cover stays in my memory.The last few pages in the book have a family picking currants-some kind of berries. A very special book indeed! Thanks for the memories

ravistories said...

This books still gives me goosebumps. So many memories associated with Russian Childrens books. I was lucky to find some books from http://rajanpunhani.tripod.com/rare_soviet_moscow_books.html

and relive my old memories.

Named Account said...

Joanna....u gave me hope, Joanna! lol....
i can't believe i share a recall so unique as u...the USSR comic book about Vanya, the boy who goes to moon also!
There are rockets ofcourse, its USSR comic, and then there is Yuri (another character, i dunno what he did). But am glad to know the name of the book was happy days are here again, to me the illustration was enigmatic, bit somber but very original and grand.
If you have links, addresses of where to get hands on more such erstwhile comic-book era, do pass em on, i'd be speechless!!!
cheers to that!
Kamal

Named Account said...

Joanna....u gave me hope, Joanna! lol....
i can't believe i share a recall so unique as u...the USSR comic book about Vanya, the boy who goes to moon also!
There are rockets ofcourse, its USSR comic, and then there is Yuri (another character, i dunno what he did). But am glad to know the name of the book was happy days are here again, to me the illustration was enigmatic, bit somber but very original and grand.
If you have links, addresses of where to get hands on more such erstwhile comic-book era, do pass em on, i'd be speechless!!!
cheers to that!
Kamal

Manu Duggal said...

I have two extra copies of original published book " When daddy was a little child" by A. Raskin by Raduga Publishers.

Anybody interested can contact me at manu77duggal@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Our nonprofit brass choir is performing Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky in May 2014, and I am putting together a collage of pictures to go with the music. I found this beautiful image, and would love to include it in our slide show at our live performance. The performance is free and open to the public.

May I have your permission to use your image for our performance?

Please let me know.

Thanks, so much.

Unknown said...

Hi Amy, thank you for writing. Could you mail me on anita (dot) vachharajani (at) gmail (dot) com?
Thanks,
Anita

Leena Sen said...

http://shrik.theswamp.in/2012/02/when-daddy-was-little-boy-or-why-book.html?m=1
Hey all you guys up above..... :) please check out this blog to find "When Daddy was a little boy" as a pdf file.