Despite being largely known, the This is… series of illustrated children books from Czech author Miroslav Šašek are still surrounded by some mystery about his creator. Polpettas Mag took the time to carry a little investigation to find out more.
Before the internet, when TV programs were in black and white, and international travel was not as accessible as nowadays, people used to discover the world through books. Kids, especially, had to rely mainly on adults tales to learn about places that were far away from their daily routine. Technicolour pictures, although already in vogue, were not so widespread.
For this reason, when This is… – a series of 3 children books (Paris, London and Rome) illustrating these big cities’ main landmarks as well as and people habits – was first published in the late 50s, it was immediately a success. Featuring simple yet effective illustrations, accompanied by short and informative text, these books allowed children of that era of travelling the world without leaving their bedroom.
Behind these books, there was a Czech, architect-trained turned illustrator, Miroslav Sasek, also known as M. Sasek. After the success of his first books as mentioned earlier, he ended up creating further 16 books on this series in a period spanning over ten years from 1958 until 1970.
One of the key points that contributed to the success of these works, there was Sasek’s ability in introducing children to great countries, cities, and landmarks entertainingly and understandably. He approached the design of each of his books as if he was visiting the location for the first time. He applied this method both for places that he knew very well – Sasek lived in Paris for example where he also published This is Paris in 1958 as well as in Munich (This is Munich, 1961) – and for places that visited for the first time, as for his books about Edinburgh and Hong Kong.
When sketching materials for his books, he always tried to avoid going by texts and guidebooks. Therefore, every of his drawing despite depicting famous landmarks and local habits, feel playful, closer to reality, almost alive. To reach this level of unbiased perspective on places he visited and landmarks he saw, he always visited them without consulting any guide and jotting down sketches accompanied by notes about specific colours or fonts, adding scattered historical caption when he felt there was the need for them.
Although Sasek book had a young audience, they still featured accurate and architecturally precise illustrations which were the heritage of Sasek’s architecture studies. This characteristic of being playful yet architecturally accurate and detailed won him praises from the grown up world too. So much so that nowadays it’s not rare having grown ups buying re-editions of his work.
Alongside his This is… series, Sasek also published Stone Is Not Cold, a book in which through his playful signature he brought to life famous sculptures from London, Rome and the Vatican City in irreverent vignettes from daily living. According to some records, at some point in his life, he also exposed his paintings around the world for which, unfortunately, there is not record.
Sasek’s principal works are
– This is… series:
This is Paris (1959, 2004)
This is London (1959, 2004)
This is Rome (1960, 2007)
This is New York (1960, 2003)
This is Edinburgh (1961, 2006)
This is Munich (1961)
This is Venice (1961, 2005)
This is San Francisco (1962, 2003)
This is Israel (1962, reissued 2008)
This is Cape Canaveral (1963, reissued 2009). Later published as This is Cape Kennedy and reissued as This is the Way to the Moon.
This is Ireland (1964, reissued 2005)
This is Greece (1966, reissued 2009)
This is Texas (1967, reissued 2006)
This is the United Nations (1968)
This is Washington, D.C. (1969)
This is Australia (1970)
This is Historic Britain (1974, reissued 2008 as This is Britain).
– Stone Is Not Cold (1961)
His illustrations also won prestigious awards as New York Times Choice of Best Illustrated Books of the Year, 1959 for This is London; and of the Year, 1960 for This is New York. The Leyton Prize, London, 1961; Best book of the year for Loisirs Jeunes, 1962 and 1965