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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Samuil Marshak
Age Range: 6-8
Baggage is the saga of a lady, her luggage and her cute little dog as they make a journey by train. Translated from Russian, the original poem was written in 1926, (and is printed in full at the back of the book), by the poet and writer, Samuil Marshak (1887-1964) with illustrations by the avant-garde artist, Vladimir Lebedev (1891-1967).
“Last week a lady checked her baggage:
A suitcase, A hatbox,
A couch, A painting, a package, a pouch,
And last but not least, one cute little pooch.”
The light-hearted verse has a rhythmic repetition of the luggage items that the lady takes on her journey. This is enhanced by Lebedev’s illustrations in three main dominant colours – black, pale green and brown that gives the book a real retro feel. The bright stencil-flat geometric images have clear lines with the exception of the lady who is fuzzy around the edges as well as her long list of personal goods - perhaps to emphasise a contrast between the old and new mirroring the before and after of the Russian Revolution.
The artwork, like the text, are repeated from page to page although conveying different situations; for example, after the baggage first appears it reappears labelled with its destination, then in transit in the darkness of the boxcar and finally turned upside down when unpacked. There is a lovely humorous twist to the story too.
In the afterword, at the back of the book, the Associate Curator from the Museum of Modern Art explains that the 1920s was an important time for publishing in Russia. Some of Leningrad’s most influential artists and writers helped to shape a new modern Russia after the Revolution and they understood that children’s books were a crucial tool for moulding young minds. Marshak and Lebedev were leading figures of this movement founding a school that became known as the Leningrad School. Their collaboration on a series of books formed part of a plan for a new style of picture book established by the Commissariat of Enlightenment to educate the children of the Revolution.
Baggage is an important contribution to children’s literature because it allows us to see a book that is not only special because of its unique style of artwork, but also for its historical context.
An earlier English edition, The Pup Grew Up! was published in 1989 by Bodley Head, translated by Richard Pevear and with illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky (1954-2018).