Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Colorful illustrations inside
100-year-old "Čítanka Malých"

I picked up this slim and nifty volume a couple of years ago at the annual Friends of Lancaster Public Library book sale at Franklin & Marshall College. Čítanka Malých is Czech and translates roughly to "Small Reader."

This hardcover book was published exactly a century ago, in 1918, and was edited by B.O. Vaŝků. It was copyrighted by the Bohemian Free School of New York City.

Bohemia is a large political and cultural region with the Czech lands, past and present. However, the cultural idea of Bohemianism, now associated mostly positively with wandering, art and freedom, evolved from a series of misunderstandings, misconceptions and biases over the past 200 years regarding the peoples of that region of Bohemia within the Czech lands.

And so the mission of the Bohemian Free School of New York City had, I think, more to do with educating United States immigrants from Bohemia than it did with anything involving free spirits and art. Support on this point comes from a 2012 journal article titled "Evolution of Our Ethnic Community in New York City," in which Vlado Simko writes:
"In 1917 the Sbor zástupců (Governing Board) of the Bohemian Free School, New York published Třetí čítanka, a 144 page book with comprehensive Czech history, that included many illustrations. They also proposed to publish a Fourth Čítanka that was to include the Czech history from the Hussites to then present time. Czech schools in New York were not a substitute but complementary to the public schools, thus the focus on the ethnic history."
Čítanka Malých is a beautiful, 96-page book, filled with vibrant color illustrations in the first half and black-and-white art in the second half. Though I can't read a word of it, it's clearly a primer, using basic vocabulary and both folk tales and scenes from everyday life to educate young readers.

Here are some of the illustrations from the book...

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