Frances Saddington

University of East Anglia, School of History

Project Title: The Soviet Children's Picture Book, 1917-1932

The 1920s and early 1930s saw the publication of a huge number of picture books for the youngest Soviet citizens. As the Bolsheviks attempted to mould a socialist society and create the ‘new Soviet man’, innovative authors and illustrators applied themselves to the task of creating a literature that would serve the needs of the first socialist generation.

Picture books acted as a catalogue for the technological progress of the Soviet Union with huge modern factories, busy cities and speeding locomotives filling their pages. Children’s literature also modelled socialist upbringing as preschool children were introduced to the Pioneer movement, May Day parades and the life of Uncle Lenin. At the same time, children could still read books about zoo animals, traditional Russian folk tales and nonsense verse by authors such as Kornei Chukovskii, which was filled with imaginative content and playful language. Consequently, the production of picture books became a battle ground for pedagogues, politicians and literary critics who all had their own view on what should constitute the new Soviet culture.

Early Soviet picture books have been hugely influential upon subsequent generations of graphic designers but have been largely overlooked by historians of Soviet culture. The project will reveal the enormous value of these books as a historical source by investigating the social and cultural history surrounding their creation and reflecting upon how this affects our understanding of cultural production in the early Soviet Union.

The picture book will be explored as a multi-functional object of visual and material culture. As well as fulfilling the traditional purposes of entertainment and provision of early literacy, it also served as artwork, commercial product and vessel for propaganda or ideological education. The interaction of these various functions will be explored with a view to understanding how a simple printed object could serve such seemingly contradictory purposes. This will provide fascinating insights into the development of a society which was under the influence of a dominant communist ideology but which was still in the process of forming its identity.

Supervised by Dr Matthias Neumann and Professor Lyndsey Stonebridge.

About me

After spending a year studying fine art at Norwich School of Art and Design, I studied for my BA in Philosophy and Russian Civilization at the University of Leeds. I completed my MA in Modern European History at the University of East Anglia.

Research Interests

Russian and Soviet history, visual culture, Constructivism and the Russian avant-garde, 20th century design, children's literature, history of childhood