Additional Book Information

Series: The New York Review Children's Collection
Pages: 48
Publication Date: March 14, 2017

The Fire Horse: Children's Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam and Daniil Kharms

Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky

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"What's definitely good in Russia are the children's books... Russian books for young children are today the best in the world." So the poet Marina Tsvetaeva described the astonishing flowering of picture books for children in Soviet Russia of the 1920s.

The three picture books that are gathered here are the fruits of collaboration between some of the greatest Russian poets of the twentieth century and the Russian avant-garde artists who joyfully practiced children's illustration.

Vladimir Mayakovsky's poem "The Fire-Horse," stunningly illustrated by Lydia Popova for its 1928 edition, "introduces the child," as the poet asserted in an interview, "to the social nature of labor." Father and son have a rocking horse collectively built by workers of different professions.

Osip Mandelstam's "Two Trams," published in 1925 with art by Boris Ender, narrates with quiet irony and strange realism a day in the life of two Leningrad tramcars. When a young tram tires out and stalls on a city square, his feisty cousin sets out to find him.

"Play" by Daniil Kharms, illustrated in 1930 by Vladimir Konashevich, follows three boys who run around pretending to be an automobile, an airplane, and a ship. The rhythmically brilliant absurdist genius of Daniil Kharms perfectly captures the energy and excitement of children's games.

The Russian text in the first-edition picture spreads has been replaced by English. Translations by Eugene Ostashevsky preserve the rhythms and rhymes of the originals by poets vastly different in ideology, temperament and language use.

by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam and Daniil Kharms, translated by Eugene Ostashevsky


The early Soviet period was a miraculously rich time for children’s books and their illustration. . . The illustrations [to Mandelstam’s Two Trams] display great elegance. The artist, Boris Ender, plays with a very limited palette of colors—black, red and grey, with the occasional touch of light brown—and with simplified shapes, especially the recurring sweep of parallel tramlines. It’s a lovely example of less doing more.
—Philip Pullman

Translator Eugene Ostashevsky has cleverly managed to transfer...playful aspects of the verse into English.
—Phoebe Taplin, Russia Beyond the Headlines