Vintage Book Wednesday: Soviet Pop-Up Book

I’ll bet you read that title and were expecting a little waving Lenin, weren’t you?

As you may have noticed, Russian culture and I have had a long and enduring relationship. I blame Anna Karenina and an outstanding college history professor (hi Dr. Ramer!). A Russian expedition is on my bucket list, and if there’s a Chagall painting in a museum, I will find it, by smell if necessary.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that when I saw this amazing little pop-up book at McKay’s in Knoxville, I had to have it. Since it was less than a dollar, it’s not like I made a risky investment.

soviet children's book

What was surprising was what I found on the back: a 1977 copyright from the Soviet Union. Apparently, in the late 70s, someone collected a few Russian nursery rhymes, had them translated, and made English-language pop-up books. This is before glasnost, so I don’t think it’s some sort of public relations ploy. My limited Google research has not led me to any easy answers about why these were published, but believe me – I’m curious!

The translator’s name is Dorian Rottenberg, who was, according to Wikipedia, “a noted translator of Russian literature, specializing in the translation of poetry and children’s books.” That’s all it says, but I want to know more! He translated a lot of Mayakovsky, but other than that, I’m not recognizing much of his work.

paper engineering

Anyway. Enough geeking out. This book is GORGEOUS. The colors are kind of a crazy combination of traditional eastern European tones and psychedelic 70s neon. While the translations can get kind of bizarre, and the rhyme schemes are sometimes forced and sometimes ignored, the actual nursery rhymes seem kind of sweet to me. Maybe I just like variety?

paper engineering

And, of course, they pop up! All of the pages have some sort of paper engineering, so the books are interactive. Clara, in particular, is drawn to them, and I let her use them knowing I risk a cardiac episode every single time. I mean, they’re Soviet-era, right? It’s not like they’re what we would call sturdy…

paper engineering

This one is my favorite. The dog and puppy slide under everyone’s feet, and the according moves back and forth. There’s a babushka! There are flowers that would be a perfect fit for Marcia Brady’s bedroom! And the rhyme isn’t half bad, either.

I have one more of these books to share with you next week, in my Russian kiddie lit lead-up to the Olympics. In the meantime, I would love to know if there are more of these, or what their history might be. Why were the Soviets publishing English-language children’s books???

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