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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 Julian Tuwim
Age Range: 6-8
Polish author Julian Tuwim’s classic poem ‘Locomotive’ invites the reader on a fantastical journey aboard a steam train as it chuffs and puffs out of the station. While it races along, rattling clattering past bridges, and valleys, we can take a peek inside some of the train’s many carriages where there are an array of goods – bananas, pianos, furniture and bicycles to an unusual assortment of passengers – giraffes, elephants, pigs and a trio of men, all eating sausages.
‘It gobbles up coal with a ravenous roar,
Though it seems too gorged to burn any more.
But soon we are ready: the coaches are fixed,
And also some trucks for goods – all mixed –
Horses, cows, bicycles, umbrellas and chicks.’
Written in rhyme and cleverly adapted into English without losing any of its charm by Bernard Gutteridge and William J. Pearce, this is a trip full of nostalgia in a beautifully crafted book of a bygone age.
Just like the 1938 original, this edition also includes two stories – one a well-loved fold tale ‘The Turnip’, where an enormous turnip proves impossible to harvest so the farmer has to call on everyone to help, from his family to all the animals and the hilarious ‘Birds’ Broadcast’ about a group of chatterbox birds who can’t agree on anything. In the second story the rhyming nonsensical dialogue is witty – the sparrow talking about the nightingale.
“Oh cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep!
Give me a dictionary! I must look
Into some silly, stuffy book
To understand this song. Do you know,
I believe he thinks that he’s Caruso!”
Jan Lewitt and George Him’s artwork is sublime, combining a mixture of surrealism and cubism with a lovely whimsical humour. Whether it is the gorgeous double-page spread in ‘Locomotive’ of a bright red train as it travels through rolling hills with their different shades of green across a bridge and into a tunnel; the double-page spread of the line of humans and animals as they try to pull up the elusive turnip in ‘The Turnip’ or the endearing image of all the birds at a meeting presided over by the wise owl in ‘The Birds’ Broadcast’, as Oliver Jeffers comments at the front of the book, “the typography and bold art deco illustrations still look fresh, dignified and beautiful after 80 years!”
Tuwim wrote satirical works and translated Pushkin into Polish, as well as writing poetry for children. Locomotive is among his best-known works. Polish Graphic design duo Jan Lewitt and George Him worked together for over twenty years as ‘Lewitt and Him’, and made a lasting impact on the design world.