m. sasek’s great cities of the world

The other day while my son searched for a book on snakes in the library’s reference section, I popped over to the next aisle to search for books on Europe for his older sister. With an upcoming trip there and her big 8-year-old appetite for information, I wanted to find something fun and imaginative – beyond what the guide books that fill our bookshelves at home offered. I located the section and flipped past a few fact-heavy books on Roman and Renaissance Cities, the stereotypical-hokey Italian food and culture guides, and an atlas, when I came across several large books inserted sideways. In cursive on the binding it read “This is Paris.” Next to it was “This is London”. Then I found it. “This is Venice.” Jackpot.

What a find.  (We plan a day trip to Venice on our trip.) Written by Czech author and illustrator M. Sasek, (1916-1980) his award-winning classic stories on the great cities of the world were first published in the early 1960s and re-issued. In “This is Venice”, he brings young readers the charm of the city with imaginative, playful, really beautiful illustrations and amusing verse with just enough information – and the right kind – for an 8-year-old. Before you know it, you are experiencing the essence of Venice – venetian specialties like glass and lace, gondola specs (eight different kinds of wood are used to build one!), the pigeons, a unique system of house numbering – along with other historical information and tourist attractions. Not one rating or checklist of “must-sees.”  Instead he has captured and shares with children the simple truths and beauty of Venice through his words and keen sensitive eye.

“The water brings scenery to the theatre – melons to the housewives – and tourists to Venice.”

“As much as Venice loves the water, the water loves Venice.”

“The most romantic sight is the Grand Canal at night.”  (or, from experience, early morning – one of my favorite Venetian moments. Ever.)

A 150 page information-filled guide with sleek, laminated pull out maps just can’t – and won’t –  do that.

A true gift for the reader is the back page of explanations corresponding to asterisks found on a few pages in the book. While his story is timely and current, a few changes are inevitable and the publishers, naturally, want to correct outdated information for accuracy. But this is the best stuff. For example:

Page 47. * “Today the pigeons in Piazzo Marco are no longer fed by an official, but you can buy corn at kiosks and feed them yourselves!”

Page 58 * “Today you will no longer see watermelon stands in Venice. However, many vendors sell fruit salad to keep you cool in the summer. And there haven’t been horses at the Lido since the 1980s.”

This is our kind of guide book.

pigeon photo credit and for more information on the This is series: http://www.miroslavsasek.com


7 responses to “m. sasek’s great cities of the world

  1. These are beautiful illustrations and I’m sure that your 8-year old was happy with them.

  2. Remember them well. London no longer has pea soupers either.

  3. I love great classics like this! I had never heard of Sasek before, but it sounds like a terrific children’s book collection to have for young travelers. 😉 You have a keen eye for great books, don’t you?

    • thanks michelle! I need to go work at a book store. or nyc publishing house. i love….books. hmmm, reminds me – ahem – of that quote about opportunities, choices and regrets….

      • Sorry to just get back to this comment…but, yes!! Did you know, that one of my secret fantasies is to have a multilingual bookstore with a cafe/bakery inside? Okay, I know it sounds like those Barnes and Nobles with a Starbucks, but it would actually be a quaint little book shop with old wooden book shelves, and it would serve homemade pastries and cookies. I think it would do very well in a small town, and in Europe. And the bookshop would host book clubs every Friday evening. *sigh* All the roads not taken.

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