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

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

Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky

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A boy wants a toy horse big enough to ride, but where can his father find it? Not in the stores, which means it’s got to be built from scratch. How? With the help of expert workers, from the carpenter to the painter, working together as one. And now the bold boy is ready to ride off in defense of the future!

Two trams, Click and Zam, are cousins. Click goes out for a day on the tracks and before long he’s so tired he doesn’t know where he is or how to get back. All he knows is he’s got to find Zam. Click is looking for Zam and Zam is looking for Click, and though for a while it seems like nobody knows where to find Click, good and faithful Zam is not to be deterred.

Peter’s a car, Vasco’s a steamboat, and Mikey’s a plane. They’re all running like mad and going great guns until, whoops, there’s a big old cow, just a plain old cow, standing in the road. What then?

The early years of the Soviet Union were a golden age for children’s literature. The Fire Horse brings together three classics from the era in which some of Russia’s most celebrated poets, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam, and Daniil Kharms, teamed up with some of its finest artists, Lidia Popova, Boris Ender, and Vladimir Konashevich. Brilliantly translated by the poet Eugene Ostashevsky, this is poetry that is as whimsical and wonderful as it is revolutionary.

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

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Kids
ISBN: 9781681370927
Pages: 48
Publication Date:


The original illustrations, particularly by Lidia Popova to Mayakovsky and Boris Ender to Mandelstam, are richly rewarding, and the book will delight adult readers who don’t know Russian as well as the three-to-nine year olds at whom the publishers direct it.
—Catriona Kelly, TLS

Rendered in a jubilant, spirited English, these narrative poems are accompanied by their original and beloved avant-garde illustrations.... If today’s readers want to empower their children to construct a better world from the miserable resources of the present one, the crafty poems of Fire Horse are necessary literature.
—Ania Aizman, The New Yorker Page-Turner

Pictures by Popova, Ender, and Konashevich, respectively, are wondrous to behold in their own right and as precursors to mid-20th-century Western picture-book art...A glimpse into Soviet children's-book illustration.
Kirkus Reviews

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

A lesser-known product of early Soviet support for the arts was the breathtaking flowering of Soviet children’s literature, as witnessed by NYRB’s The Fire Horse, with its faithful reproductions of three books from 1925 to 1930.
—Ainsley Morse, Los Angeles Review of Books

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

In The Fire Horse, which brings together six poets and illustrators from 1920s Soviet Russia, beautifully packaged by New York Review Books, it is not the ideology that excites, but the artistic craftsmanship, and the reflection of everyday life at the time....So arrestingly ahead of its time, The Fire Horse is testament to the necessity of translation and intercultural exposure; writers cannot possibly guess at the future of their field without discovering these hidden revolutions and inventions which have shaped and will continue to shape it. We have a duty to read any literature bequeathed by past cultures or political systems, in part to debunk any simplistic narratives of that culture or system which might prevail in our own. Ostashevsky, who was born in Leningrad but migrated to New York in 1979, understands this, and has approached these poems with both respect and a view to making them very accessible; The Fire Horse is, to put it simply, another world, alive.
—James Antoniou, Modern Poetry in Translation

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