It is difficult for us to imagine what a strange impression Advice to Little Girls, a children’s story by Mark Twain, must have had on its audience when it was written in 1865 and eventually published as part of The 30,000 Dollar Bequest and Other Stories.
American children’s literature in those days was mostly didactic, addressed to some imaginary reader—an ideal girl or boy, upon reading the story, would immediately adopt its heroes as role models. Twain did not squat down to be heard and understood by children, but asked them to stand on their tiptoes—to absorb the kind of language and humor suitable for adults.
The unexpected idea to illustrate Twain’s text came from the editor Bianca Lazzaro of Donzelli Editore in Rome, who also translated the text in to Italian. I still feel envious that she originated it because I’m always trying to find unusual or provocative subjects for my children’s books.
Trying to follow Twain’s style, I wanted to make something along the lines of a scrap-book or an album that you could buy in any paper-goods store at the time. Children used these small albums to paste in various curious objects, or for drawing, or just for doodling.
The only missing elements in the design of the book are stains and dog-ears, but I hope those will come with time.
Vladimir Radunsky is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including Manneken Pis, Mighty Asparagus, and Le Grand Bazar. For a complete list of his books, visit vladimirradunsky.com.
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