For some reason I’ve been seeing a lot of mention of Miroslav Sasek around various websites recently. What he’s primarily known for is the series of books called This Is…, which provide a children’s introduction to various cities, but also work as charming guidebooks/introductions to readers of any age.
His idea came from noticing that parents, when on various trips with their children, tended to stay absorbed in their various surroundings, leaving the kids to figure out exactly what the hell is going on for themselves. Writing from a child’s point of view, his books please everyone through sheer charm alone. The illustrations explain, from the first time you see them, exactly why these books aren’t just pedestrian stuff for your kids, but rather bewitching illustrative glimpses of each city they profile.
Some thoughts from his official website:
This is London is the second This is book and undoubtedly one of the best. Sasek concentrates on the things he likes best: people, costume, transport and local details that somehow come together to form a whole impression of the city that still seems quite accurate today.
Here’s a review of one of his titles from no less than the Times Literary Supplement:
The pattern of M. Sasek’s books is now firmly established. It would be difficult for him to introduce innovations, and these would not be welcomed by his admirers, who delight in the fixed conventions of his unconventional portraits. It is the more remarkable that each book is pure Sasek and at the same time each catches the characteristic atmosphere of his subject…
This is Venice has many of the artist’s gentle digs at tourists and at the vendors who feed on them. It shows, too, that M. Sasek is primarily an architectural draughtsman. His drawings of churches, palaces and odd corners are brilliant simplifications which never depart from the essential truths of building. That he draws buildings not in noble isolation but surrounded by the mess and muddle of a living city — washing on the line, telly-aerials on the roof — endears him more deeply to the reader.
His art style renders the cities immensely appealing to every reader, and these are some books that you’d do fine getting any kids or travelers in your family this year. His images are funny, and poke at the gawking tourists and the general things touristy families like to do (or feel terribly obligated to do) in each city.
He also did some other books not entirely focused on cities but sites, including This is the United Nations and This is Cape Canaveral (now called Kennedy), which are gold mines. Check out his great UN book here, and the Cape Canaveral image below.
While it’s only November, it’s always useful to collect various links in the endless lead-up to Christmas, in case you need some ideas for thoughtful, interesting gifts. As each Christmas passes, I always find myself increasingly obliged to find gifts for various kids in my extended family, and since I don’t have much experience with toy stores any more, and can’t buy children’s clothes to save my life, I generally try to find gifts that seem timelessly appealing and unique enough to mean something. Sasek’s books fit perfectly into this category. They’ll thrill any parent too.