The following round-up offers ten tips for books for children and young adults from last year which caught our attention: whether because of their original storyline, enchanting visuals, inventiveness or fresh humour. The chosen books cover all age categories, from pre-schoolers (4+) to adults, who will certainly find quite a few of the following titles of interest too. For those who want to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world of Czech children’s books, we recommend keeping an eye on the Golden Ribbon competition and the Best Children’s Books project.
(Běžíliška, 52 pages)
When it comes to teaching primary school children about the world around them, why present them with a series of dull, unconnected facts when you can link it all together in an appealing way through an entertaining story and even let the children try things out for themselves. A young graduate of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, Tereza Vostradovská, is behind the text and illustrations for this inventive book, which presents information about nature in a gentle and interactive form. In its underground burrow, an inquisitive big-eared mouse is putting together its own nature encyclopaedia. For this purpose, it sets out to investigate both under the ground and above it, through the woods and orchard and around the fish pond, encountering worms and larva, tracing the outlines of stones from fruit, listening to birdsong, thinking about how to tell the age of a tree or how to decide what is a fruit and what is a vegetable. It also sets tasks for its readers, teaching them how to catch beetles, grow plants or make a garden pond. In addition, the book is linked to new media and comes with an app and a website, which are also in English. Although the book is primarily intended for younger schoolchildren, the playful and yet clear (often full-page) illustrations make it comprehensible and attractive for pre-schoolers too.
“Playful Science may seem like a natural history textbook, but it is much more than just a teaching aid: the picture panels depicting, for example, life in the soil, in the trees or below the surface of a fish pond combine comparatively realistic drawing (yes, all those little creepy crawlies really are recognizable!) with artistic flair and at times with situational humour too.”
— Radek Malý, Host 3/2017
“Tereza Vostradovská’s large-format book, Playful Science, is an attractive way to teach infants about the world around them, and thanks to the dependable yet playful illustrations it can even be used with toddlers.”
— Jitka Nešporová, iLiteratura
- 2017 Golden Ribbon Award – Literary section: Non-fiction for children and youth
Petr Stančík & Lucie Dvořáková
Chrujda the Badger Found his Great Love
Jezevec Chrujda našel velkou lásečku
(Meander, 24 pages)
Petr Stančík, the 2015 Magnesia Litera prizewinner for prose, writes both for children and adults. He has already published two books about Chrujda, always to the great joy of both children and critics. In this latest story the popular children’s character Chrujda from Habřinec Forest, a friendly, inquisitive builder of underground corridors and setts, falls fatefully in love with the beautiful Anička the weasel, but he is not the only one to do so. Chrujda has to fight for his love with crafty Smradolf the polecat. Our smooth-furred heroes find themselves in a secret cave full of dangerous creatures trying to do them in. Brave Chrujda beats his rival not through strength but through courage and resourcefulness, finally convincing Anička that he is the one for her. The humorous illustrations of the various creatures of forest and meadow are by the outstanding artist Lucie Dvořáková, whose previous illustrations have won great acclaim.
“The third volume about the badger abounds in wit and wordplay. […] Entertainment guaranteed.”
— MF Dnes 18/06/16
“This third adventure of the resourceful badger is a true heart-wringer: Chrujda has fallen in love with Anička the weasel. This simple but not simple-minded tale humorously and inventively tells how an apparently tedious type can show greatness.”
— Pavel Mandys, iLiteratura
Vratislav Maňák & Jan Hísek
(ART vydavatelství, 36 pages)
Vratislav Maňák is without doubt one of the most distinctive figures in young Czech prose. The twenty-nine-year-old writer and journalist caused a stir with his debut collection of short stories, Šaty z igelitu (Plastic Dress, Host, 2012), for which he was awarded the Jiří Orten Prize; his last novel, Rubik’s Cube (Rubikova kostka, Host, 2016), was one of three prose titles to be nominated for the 2017 European Prize for Literature. In addition to “grown-up” prose, however, Maňák also has a track record in writing books for children – he won a Magnesia Litera prize in 2015 with his The Clock Master (Muž z hodin, Albatros, 2014). The fairy tale The Skydweller is his third children’s book. A mountain valley is flooded with darkness and young Klára sets out in search of the mysterious Skydweller to obtain a warming flame for her sick mother from him. The sombre atmosphere of the storytelling, for which the author took inspiration from his beloved Hans Christian Andersen and from Oscar Wilde, is immediately reflected in the cover artwork by the painter Jan Hísek, who illustrated the book. With this tale of a child’s courage, the secrets of the sky and a health-giving light, Vratislav Maňák cements his reputation as a master storyteller.
Barbora Klárová & Tomáš Končinský
Typo and Crust
Překlep a Škraloup
(Albatros, 112 pages)
An elf who occasionally signs himself Tyop (and who digilently – or rather diligently arranges typos in books and other printed material) and his loyal friend Crust are our guides in the search for an answer to a tricky question: why do things age and who is responsible for it? For obsolescence and dilapidation do not happen by chance: they are the work of the entropist elves to whom the two chums belong. However, when they find out that people are not at all happy about ageing, the friends set out on an adventurous pilgrimage to the very Cog of Time in order to stop it. However, during the expedition they come to a surprising realization. This playful debut book by Barbora Klárová and Tomáš Končinský with illustrations by Daniel Špaček was published under the auspices of the oldest and biggest Czech publishers of children’s books and is one of the greatest surprises to come out of this year’s crop of books. This profound story with its wise denouement is accompanied throughout by irresistible wordplay. The elves encounter ingenious inventions, from a humidifier for the “dry zip” (Velcro) to a steam-powered two-stroke choccoflaker, not to mention the Crystal Bupkis competition. The authors of the book deservedly carried off this year’s Magnesia Litera for children’s literature as well as the country’s most important award for children’s fiction, the Golden Ribbon.
“The title with the jokey names of the protagonists and the cover illustration depicting elves destroying a book might give the impression that this is one of many nonsense children’s tales whose main ambition is to entertain the child reader by juxtaposing crazy and realistic life situations. However, Typo and Crust offers much more. Beneath the surface of the humorous action, it touches upon important existential questions.”
— Milena Šubrtová, iLiteratura
“Beautiful illustrations, an engaging story, an original idea and wonderful humour for children and parents alike. This book turns reading bedtime stories into fun for parents too.”
- 2017 Golden Ribbon Award – Literary section: Literature for children
- 2017 Magnesia Litera – For children and youth
Ivona Březinová & Tomáš Kučerovský
Shout Quietly, Bro
Řvi potichu, brácho
(Albatros & Pasparta, 208 pages)
Ivona Březinová is a phenomenon in the field of literature for children and young people. The author of dozens of books, which range in genre from original fairy tales all the way to fantasy, she has been awarded a number of literary prizes including a Golden Ribbon and nominations for a Magnesia Litera, and her texts have been translated into ten languages. She has received critical acclaim primarily for her socially motivated stories for older children. In them she tackles the subjects of minorities, handicaps, incurable diseases and psychological disorders – for example, anorexia. Her latest book is also devoted to the complexity of everyday life with a handicap. Fourteen-year-old Pamela lives with just her mother and her twin brother Jeremiáš. He has suffered from low-functioning autism and severe mental retardation since birth and requires the observation of strict rules and rituals: each day of the week has its own colour, cars always have to be parked the same way and Jeremy, as Pamela’s brother is known, refuses to eat anything that isn’t round. This results in some difficult-to-handle situations, which the author relates with the necessary detachment. She also gives us a glimpse into other areas of Pamela’s life, matters of friendship and love. This realistic but in no way tragic book shows how, despite its challenges, living with a severely disabled brother is possible thanks to understanding and a loving family background. The book was brought out by Albatros publishers in collaboration with Pasparta, a charitable organization aimed at raising awareness of disorders of the autistic spectrum.
“The story of an ordinary family affected by life with an autistic person is told by Ivona Březinová very convincingly and without embellishment. However, so as not to just impress upon young readers the difficulty of living with someone who is disabled, she also includes Pamela’s experiences with her classmates and the fate of her distinctive first love. So this book will move you and have you in tears, but it will also make you laugh out loud.”
— Alena Badinová, KlubKnihomolů.cz
“[…] as soon as you open this book, it’s apparent from the graphic design and printing of the illustrations by Tomáš Kučerovský that the book has turned out really well. It’s a readable book, and not just for older children but also for adult readers.”
— Stanislava Zábrodská, Čítárny
- 2017 Golden Ribbon Award – Literary section: Literature for youth
Martin Vopěnka & Iku Dekune
A Girl and a Soul. Tales from the Mountains
O duši a dívce. Pohádky z hor
(Mladá fronta, 144 pages)
The mountains as a place full of secrets, concealing dangers and riches, a place of stories. In the collection A Girl and a Soul, the well-known novelist Martin Vopěnka introduces himself as a teller of fairy tales. In fourteen tales with an ecological message set in a mysterious, remote area of mountain ridges where silence still reigns, we meet the likes of an ageing raven, a shy marmot, a quarrelsome mouse and a lone wolf. The fairy tales, which occasionally turn into the author’s own interpretation of ancient myths, are accompanied by captivating pastel landscapes and animal portraits by the Japanese artist Iko Dekune. A selection of eight fairy tales has already been translated into English and was published in the Philippines in 2016. Martin Vopěnka is a well-known novelist and writer of sci-fi, and he is also one of the few Czech authors of young adult literature: his Sleeping Secret (Spící tajemství, 2013, Fragment) was nominated for a Golden Ribbon in 2014 in the category of fiction for young adults, and New Planet (Nová planeta, Mladá Fronta, 2015) won a prize in the same category. Vopěnka’s philosophical sci-fi novel The Fifth Dimension (Pátý rozměr, Kniha Zlín, 2009) was published in English and met with a positive critical response in the Financial Times and the Times Literary Supplement. As well as English, his books have also been published in Romanian, Russian and Arabic.
“The book gives children and also many adults an easy introduction to the laws of nature or even the principle of evolution. It reveals the magic of values that endure and effortlessly instils the reader with a love of nature and all living things.”
— Eliška Prokopová, iLiteratura
(Baobab, 149 pages)
This anthology of seven short stories by different authors, brought out by Baobab publishers in collaboration with the Meta association, which is concerned with the integration of young foreigners in the Czech Republic, is linked by the theme of resettlement. The individual stories tell of people on the move, people fleeing and searching, uprooted between a lost past and the future they are still looking for. The collection puts the topical subject of refugeeism into a wider geographical and historical context (with tales reaching from the Second World War to the present, set in Germany, France or Argentina…), thus offering food for thought and acting as a springboard for discussion which will be of use to teachers, among others. It features authors from different generations with diverse life stores, many of whom have personal experience of emigration, namely Olga Černá, Edgar Dutka, Magdalena Platzová, Jan Čumlivski, Markéta Pilátová, Chaim Cigan and Marek Šindelka. This multiplicity of perspectives is one of the reasons why the book will not only appeal to the children and adolescents it is aimed at, but will also offer a rewarding experience to older readers.
Taťána Rubášová & Jindřich Janíček
An Extraordinary Robot Expedition
Podivuhodná robotí expedice
(Labyrint, 96 pages)
With An Extraordinary Robot Expedition, a promising young authorial duo enters the field of children’s literature: Jindřich Janíček and Taťána Rubášová. They are not unknown names in the world of culture: the illustrator Jindřich Janíček also runs the studio and publishing house Take Take Take, while Taťána Rubášová is a scriptwriter, journalist and film-maker whose short films have repeatedly met with success in competitions. This epic book, based on the juxtaposition of text in the form of diary entries and full-page illustrations, tells the story of the adventurous expedition of two robots with opposite personalities: sometime in the 22nd century, the shy and idealistic scientist William and the practical and fearless explorer Meriwether set out into the unknown to discover life and the remains of an extinct human civilization. The naivety of the robots, who misinterpret the remnants of civilization in a post-apocalyptic world, fills the book with tragicomic humour, while another source of entertaining clashes is the different “human” personalities of the two explorers, whose names refer to famous conquerors of the Wild West. However, questions of existence and the potential for learning surface from beneath the jokes, and the theme of the end of civilization rears its head in a disturbing way. Because of that, the book offers something for readers of all age categories.
“An Extraordinary Robot Expedition is richly illustrated and will be an exceptionally powerful experience for both children and parents; it is undoubtedly one of the best books to appear on the Czech market in recent years.”
— Vojtěch Matocha, iLiteratura
“Readers of all age categories will be entertained by the petty squabbles between the robots and the playful humour stemming from the differences between the human view of the world and that of the robots. Naming a river after William’s favourite online shop Amazon is a touch of genius!”
— Šárka Flídrová, abc
Jan Novák & Jaromír 99
Zátopek …when you just can’t go on, go faster!
Zátopek …když nemůžeš, tak přidej!
(Argo & Paseka, 208 pages)
The Novák – Jaromír 99 team are a combination of two great names from two different fields. Novák’s books have come out in numerous world languages and he has won several important literary awards including Magnesia Litera for book of the year (2004) and the Josef Škvorecký Prize (2007), as well as the Carl Sandburg Award for Chicago authors and the Friends of Literature Award. Jaromír 99 is the author of perhaps the most famous Czech comics Alois Nebel, which has been brought out in several world languages, including German and French. He has won the Muriel Award for comics.
Zátopek is a graphic novel about the life of one of the most famous Czech athletes, Emil Zátopek, considered by many to be the greatest runner of all time. Zátopek used to say that the threshold of pain and suffering is what separates the boys from the men. Pushing the limits of the body is what made him a phenomenal runner and one of the most famous athletes. When he won the 10km race at the 1948 Olympic Games in London and finished second on the 5km track, he didn’t consider it a great achievement. At the next Olympics in Helsinki he won three gold medals and became a legend, but he also achieved a more important victory — he stood up against the Communist regime by insisting that his colleague, Stanislav Jungwirth, who was originally banned from travelling to Helsinki for political reasons, be allowed to compete. This graphic novel, which has already been published in a German translation, looks at Zátopek’s greatest achievements as well as his relationship with the love of his life, Dana Zátopková.
“The expressiveness of the sharply chiseled faces and tense muscles captures the pain and effort which sport and life require. The comics portrays Zátopek as a hero and a role-model and also hints at his weaknesses. A man who is successful due to his will but is simultaneously walking on a tightrope above an abyss where his Czech cunning helps him keep his balance”
— Kateřina Čopjaková, Respekt
“The graphic novel Zátopek …when you just can’t go on, go faster! will be read in a single breath even by those whose sporting knowledge ends with the difference between a plimsoll and a running shoe. Through one specific example, it testifies to the perverse conditions that held sway in this country in the 1950s and the strength of a few individuals who managed to defy them.”
— Ondřej Bezr, MF Dnes
(Host, 96 pages)
This year, Tereza Ščerbová, a young illustrator trained by the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (and known in the literary world for her illustrations for the magazine Host), made a splash with her book Kooki. She put text to illustrations in her characteristic style – and her endeavour was immediately crowned with a Golden Ribbon award for the artwork in the category of books for older children and young people. Kooki is a philosophical parable about identity and ties and the desire to please those we care about, as well as the risks this entails. Kooki, a mysterious creature from the mountains, lives contentedly in the present time and place until he meets a bear from the town, who tells him of the wonders of the colourful and exciting world elsewhere. But then the bear stops visiting his friend, who is prepared to do anything to go and see him in the town – even at the cost of losing himself. In this allegorical tale, which suggests more than it explains, readers of all ages will find their own level, so the book can grow with them, as timeless storytelling like The Little Prince is able to do.
“As a graduate in illustration and graphics from the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design, Ščerbová illustrated the book herself – superbly. The text and pictures complement each other, creating a sometimes grim but exciting story. […] Kooki is simply a story which can grow with the reader without losing any of its significance – quite the reverse. And that is something you don’t see very often.”
— Monika Zavřelová, MF Dnes
“You’ll fall for Tereza Ščerbová’s Kooki and develop a soft spot for him. He is a being who deserves it. He is the better part of us ourselves, which should never be allowed to perish. Kooki is really hope and joy, openness and carefreeness and at the same time the courage to remain oneself.”
— Zdeněk A. Eminger, iLiteratura
- 2017 Golden Ribbon Award – Art section: Literature for youth