This is M. Sasek,
visit with a witty genius.
Prague, Czech 1916-1980
On a short holiday to Paris and enthralled by the city and its history, Sasek realised that distracted parents with children in tow rarely seemed to interpret the city to their off-spring, and that sketches of his surroundings he was making might best be used as illustrations for a children’s book. ‘This Is Paris’ (1959) was born. Sasek’s illustrations might best be described as whimsical. There’s a gentle brilliance and quirky wit to his pictures. His illustrations interpret the adult city to the child, but they as often take their reference from the child’s perspective. He seems to ask, ‘what might he or she see, find interesting, or notice first’.
Sasek wrote short, laconic sentences almost as captions or legends to attach to these illustrations, sentences the directness of which mimic the tones of an adult instructing a wide-eyed and interested child.
On a short holiday to Paris, Sasek realised that distracted parents with children in tow rarely seemed to interpret the city to their off-spring. Enthralled by the city and its history he sketched his surroundings and thought they might be used as illustrations for a children’s book. In 1959 ‘This Is Paris’ was born.
‘This Is Paris’, he begins. ‘So here we are’. ‘This is what a bus stop looks like’ and ‘Here’s your ticket’ he continues. (Because of course, each of these everyday things is different wherever you travel). This is direct, instructional, simple and whimsical, and he adopts this gentle tone from the first, right through to the eighteenth ‘This Is’ title.
He lived, otherwise, in Munich where his wife worked, and where his stepson was schooled. His books have been translated into numerous languages and his illustrations have met with critical acclaim, with both ‘This Is London’ and ‘This Is New York’ named ‘Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year’ by the New York Times in 1959 and 1960 respectively. Sasek’s own three favourites were ‘This Is Venice’ (1961), ‘This Is Hong Kong’ (1965) and ‘This Is Edinburgh’ (1961) – though, as he reported to Lee Bennett Hopkins, he hated the Scottish weather in Edinburgh.*
Mr. Sasek died while visiting his sister in Wettingen, Switzerland, May 1980. He left a legacy of brilliantly illustrated books which have never been out of print.
Special thanks to, Lee Bennett Hopkins * Quoted in ‘Books are for People’, (1969)
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