'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 18 October 2010

An Interview with Anne Ward of miroslavsasek.com

Kids Book Review is thrilled to welcome a woman who is dear to our own hearts... she is passionate about author Miroslav Sasek! The lovely Anne Ward, who is based in Scotland, is a great Sasek aficionado, and has most graciously interviewed for us. You must not miss her amazing site dedicated to Sasek - miroslavsasek.com. You will find stacks of fascinating information that will curl your toes with delight.

In the meantime, enjoy this glorious interview!

Tell us a little bit about you. Hi! I was born in Glasgow, Scotland and still live here with my partner and two sons aged 9 and 4. By day I work as a freelance website manager, a job I got into after studying librarianship.

When did your fascination with Miroslav Sasek begin? I have loved books for as long as I can remember and spend a lot of time in second-hand bookshops. One day, about 10 years ago, I was in my favourite bookshop Voltaire and Rousseau in Glasgow when I spotted a copy of This is London.

I had never heard of M. Sasek before and was immediately intrigued, as I thought it was the most fascinating book I had ever seen! After that, I did everything I could to find out about the 'famous artist' described on the dust jacket, and track down the rest of his books.

Why did you love This is London? I loved everything about it, really. I guess the first thing that drew me in was the illustrations – I loved the elegant 50s style of the drawings, the angular characters and the impish style.

Another thing that knocked me out was his eye for detail. There’s one particular illustration that shows people waiting on a London tube platform and it’s absolutely incredible. The observation of this sort of quiet moment, like the drawing of a bus queue manages to sum up so much about London but it’s something that 'proper' guide books would overlook.

So I loved the way he observed the everyday – shopfronts, children playing, public transport – and used it to really show what London is like.

What inspired you to create a website dedicated to this author? The dust jacket described his as a 'famous artist' so I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t heard of him. Really I couldn’t understand why something so amazing wasn’t world-famous. I had read plenty of American children’s books, and read a lot about artists and illustrators so it seemed strange that there was so little trace of Mr Sasek.

At the time, there was one Sasek fan site which later disappeared, but the information on it was enough to get me started researching his life and work. As I worked as a librarian at the time, I had access to the internet and reference source so I just kept searching until the pieces started coming together. It was the early days of the web and I was learning how to write HTML so it was a good topic to create a site about.

What can readers expect to find on your website? Readers can expect to find some information on Mr Sasek’s life, a list of all his books (that I know about anyway),  information on the four This is... films that were produced and other bits and pieces like prints, postcards and tea towels. There are also links to online bookshops which sell the books.

Where was Sasek born and where did he spend his final years? He was born in Prague in 1916 and died in Switzerland in 1980. In between he lived in Paris and Munich.

Sasek is known for his This Is… series. Did he write any other books? Are any of them currently in print? Yes and no. He wrote a few other books that I know of. None are currently in print. There is a list of titles on at miroslavsasek.com/books/index.html.

Sasek illustrated several books for other authors – did he use a style similar to his This Is… series? Yes, sometimes. Letters from Pompeii and Mike and the Modelmakers are probably most similar. His earlier works have a slightly different, less angular style.

Which was his first This Is… book and when was it published? This is Paris and This is London were both published in 1959.

What style of book would you call his This Is… series? I always think of them as modernist books, as they are so bright and clear and airy with those striking clean lines and use of colour, like a great modernist building!

What do you love most about this series? I love the way that Sasek manages to really capture the spirit of a place by concentrating on the little details that so many people would overlook. My favourite ever illustration is in This is Edinburgh where a poor man is being blown up Waverly Steps. This is such a typical part of a visit to Edinburgh, which is full of narrow alleyways and steep staircases. I just love the way that he stopped to capture that.

When was it decided to start updating and reissuing Sasek’s work? The first reissue came out in 2004. [Ed: Ward has tried to source details of how or why Sasek's works have been reissued, but the publishing rights owners - Rizzoli - are extremely hard to pin down.]

Will all his books be re-released? This is Greece, This is Australia and This is Cape Kennedy were re-released in 2009 – which book is next? The only two that haven’t been reissued are This is Munich and This is the United Nations. I’ve tried to find out plans for them but can’t contact anyone at Rizzoli. It would be great to have the whole series out again.

Who currently owns copyright to Sasek’s work? No one really. Jeffrey Simmons who was Mr Sasek’s publisher at W.H. Allen has spent many years trying to sort the rights situation out. He has recently found Mr Sasek’s heir so the copyright situation should be clearer soon.

What do you hope your wonderful site brings readers? The inspiration to explore Sasek's work and enjoy his books, and to see these great places with their own eyes.

How often do you update the site and what plans do you have for its future? I don’t update it often enough, due to other time pressures. I would like to expand it some more and tidy up some loose ends if I can get the time soon.

Why is it so vital to continue to honour and explore M Sasek’s work? He is a huge influence on so many people. If you look at the work of today’s great illustrators and animators you can often see Sasek’s influence. The books are a treasure and deserve a wider exposure.