Obituary: Children's literature review

M(iroslav) Sasek: 1916-1980

Czechoslovakian author/illustrator of nonfiction for children, Sasek's This is... series provides a unique service for children by introducing them to great countries, cities, and landmarks in an entertaining and understandable way. Sasek approached his books as if he were visiting a place for the first time, as he often was. He began each visit by going to see the places and things he heard or read about, and explore the rest without the aid of a guidebook. His impressions in word and picture form the basis of the books, and he added historical asides when he thought they were warranted. Sasek wrote his facts simply, but with enough nuance and satire to entertain sophisticated readers; his colorful illustrations are accurate and architecturally precise, but are drawn with humor and detail to intrigue young readers. Throughout the series Sasek retains a childlike sense of wonder in his verbal and visual descriptions.

Sasek was educated as an artist in Czechoslovakia, but left in 1948 when the Communist Party came into power; he settled in Munich, but chose to remain stateless. Sasek started writing for children while on vacation in Paris. He noticed that parents in families of tourists tended to stay absorbed in their surroundings. Feeling these young people deserved to know about the things they would or could be seeing, Sasek created This is Paris in 1959; he eventually published nearly twenty books in the series.

Most critics agree that Sasek presents his subjects to children successfully; some American reviewers say that his European outlook provides a lively, objective view of the American cities and subjects he covers. It is also noted that some of the language of Sasek's books is beyond the level of his intended audience, and that his later works lack the freshness of the earlier titles. However, the longevity of his series suggests that Sasek's respect for children's needs and his care in making his subjects exciting for them has secured his readership. Sasek was awarded the New York Times Choice of Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year in 1959 for This is London and in 1960 for This is New York, which also received the Boy's Club of America Junior Books Award in 1961. This is the United Nations was listed on the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Honor List in 1979.