Children's Literature: Soviet Union


Figure 1.--This 1928 Soviet publication shows the popular themes in Sovier children literature: the glory of the Revolution and mannual labor. Notice the boy in his Young Pioneer uniform. The book was originally published in Russian and then translated into other languages like Latvian and Ukranian. Notice that the booklet was published in Latvian, even though Latvia once a part of Tasrist Russia was in 1928 an independent country.

Soviet books and periodicals targetting children reflected the importance given to molding future Soviet citizens and Communist Party members. Books often dealt with the Young Pioneers, to which virtually all Soviet children belonged, and school. The dignity of labor and the glories of the Soviet Union were other popular themes. Publications proselytized the Communist Party through illustrated articles, children's stories and photography. Most books were published in Russian, but books were also published in Ukranian and several of the many other languages spoken in the Soviet Union. This varied with the oficinal view of the nationality involved which could change over time. Soviet children's literature was also strongly affected by the varying economic and political policies adopted by the country over time.

Chronology

Soviet children's literature was also strongly affected by the varying economic and political policies adopted by the country over time. Of course all literature is affected by chronological trends. In this regard, the trends in Soviet literature as all publication was controlled by the Communist Party reflected the official policies rather than the wider range of social though prevalent in Western literature. One observer divides Soviet childrens literature into 6 periods, strongly associated one way or the other with the life and legacy of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. [Hellman] As is often the case in totalitarian socities, core Soviet values are often represented in children's literature. The Soviet Union in August 1939 signed a Non-aggression Pact with NAZI Germany, becoming a NAZI ally in all but name. This sharp swing in Sviet policy was not, however, reflected in children's literature during Augist 1939-June 1941 by any effort to paint the NAZIs in a more favorable light.

Authors

We have limited information on Soviet authors of children's books. Soviet children's books wre not distributed in the West and, as a result, HBC has little information on them. Some authors we have noted include Krapivin, Marshak, Neverov, and Politschuk. There were many others. A HBC reader tells us that Vladislav Krapivin was the most famous modern Russian author of the books for children during the late Soviet period. Krapivin had a close association with Evgeniy Medvedev who illustrated many of his books. We have little information on these authors and their work. Hopefully our Russian readers will provide more information on these authors.

Themes

Soviet books and periodicals targetting children reflected the importance given to molding future Soviet citizens and Communist Party members. Books often dealt with the Young Pioneers, to which virtually all Soviet children belonged, and school. The dignity of labor and the glories of the Soviet Union were other popular themes. Publications proselytized the Communist Party through illustrated articles, children's stories and photography. An accordion booklet for younger children, Pioneria, as early as 1925 showed Young Pioneers at school and playing. [McGill] Others important themes were industrialization and the dinity of labor. Heroic struggles, esspecially the Revolution and the titantic fight against the NAZIs were also popular themes. Children's books somtimes dealt with the role children played in these struggles.

Types of Children's Literature

Soviet children's publications followed the same basic patterns as in Western Europe. There were periodical publications as well as fiction and non fiction books. Two major perioificals Kolkhoznye Rebiata (Children of the Kolkhoz) and Pioneriia in the early and mid 1930s appear to glofify Soviet Communism with illustrated articles, stories, and photography. Most Soviet books seem to be single issue works. Some examples of early Soviet books Books such as Marshak's Otriad (Detachment, 1933) was about Young Pioneers having a good time at camp. Politschuk's Prigoda (A Happening, 1931) shows Young Pioneers in a factory. [McGill] We do not know of the children's series that were so popular in America and Britain. There were of course also school textbooks.

Languages

Russian of course was the dominant language of the Soviet Union. The Russian the Soviets inheited from the Tsar was a multi-national empire composed of a wide range of nationalities. Rhere were 130 languages listed in the the Great Soviet Encyclopedia that were used by the Soviet population. About 70 of these languages had written forms, 50 of which were developed only in the 20th century, using a variety of alpahbets. After the Russian Revolution some of these alpahbets were cahnged into Cyrillic or Roman characters. Most books were published in Russian, but books were also published in several of the many other languages spoken in the Soviet Union. This varied with the oficinal view of the nationality involved which could change over time. Often the books were originially published in Russian and then later translated into other languages. We note books published in Armenian, Chuvash (a Tartar-related language of Eastern Russia), Georgian, Latvian, Tartar, Ukranian, and many other languages. [McGill]

Illustrators

We have little information on Soviet illustrators at this time. Some of the illustrations in available children's books seem rather crude. Others are highly creative. One of the most creative Soviet illistrator was Vladimir Vasil'evich Lebedev. An interesting aspect of Soviet illustrators is the absence of individual charcter studies. Most illustrations are group studies showing how children fit into the collective, be it a school class or Young Pioneer unit. The beautiful studies of undividual children and their efforts to deal with the ordinary issues of childhood are very rare in illustrations for Soviet children's books. Even when children ar depicted individually by Sovie illustrators, often there is none of the personality and warm of the indivual that emerges, but only the feeling of a child as part of a collective body.

International Marketing

Some children's literature is old all over the world. Other children's literature has a more limited national market. We do not yet fully understand the reasons behind this. We have begun to assess the marketing the export of French literature, especially the limited distribution in America and Britain. We hope to eventually expand this assessment.

Sources

Hellman, Ben. Children's Books in Soviet Russia: From October Revolution 1917 to Perestroika 1986.

McGill University, Rare Books and Special Collections Division. "Children's books of the early Soviet era," 1999.






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Created: October 2, 2002
Last updated: September 17, 2003