All Those Images

Early Sunday afternoon, lying in bed with a large illustrated book of Ion Creangă stories, Memories of Childhood Days: the time stood still, waiting for me to turn over the pages, and I had all the time in the world. My father was sitting next to me reading too, but I was more content with my book, because his travel essays from some far away country had no images. "I formed my own pictures in my mind while reading the text," he said. But I was still happier with my own choice, mostly black and white pictures by Livia Rusz and some color plates here and there. I felt familiar with the drawings – they reminded me of Cinderella's story in my first book, which I had received as first prize for fine achievements in my studies during the first year at school. I do not remember if I could read by the end of that year, but the book consisted mainly of pictures, and only four small, green pages with the compressed version of the story. To me, as with most children, the illustrations were opening a door to new worlds before the words. My five-year-old daughter was "reading books" since she was two by deciphering the lines and colors put together to form pictures. Watching Ninni I could see that her interaction with the book was similar to an adult's behavior reading a book. Small fingers resting on details and exploring the page composition focus, at the start, on the left corner, then the middle and the end, then go on to the next page of the spread. Pictures are the first stop on the way of communication, an easy way to get to the content before we break the code of letters, words, white spaces and punctuation. Pictures, a gay and colorful cultural space by definition, can also be dark and frightening, but always generous to the guest. A world of pictures, in color or simple ink drawings in black and white depicting all the characters that populated my childhood. I loved books because of the pictures, the letters and the smell. I was surrounded by them throughout the grey era of communism. I was happy to be in their company, as I was dreaming myself away. I remember three different illustration styles; when I was old enough to pay attention to the first page information, I noticed three names that I still recall: Livia Rusz, Val Munteanu and Eugen Taru. Of course there were many other children's books illustrators, but those three triggered my fantasy for a long while. I was left alone with those books, and I was in good company. Eugen Taru gave me an autograph on a coloring book I won at a chalk on asphalt drawing competition with the title "We in the Year 2000." Val Munteanu's pictures of Collodi's Pinocchio met my eye in a Swedish edition of the story, many years after my childhood in Romania, like a greeting from the past. I often imagine the fascinating world of the storyteller Ion Creangă only populated by Livia Rusz's girls and boys in national costumes. The logotype of Ion Creangă Publishing House became a well known symbol, the distinguishing mark of many books with excellent pictures. By the end of the communist era, when the poor quality of paper and print made the pictures in fiction literature almost unintelligible, the strong colors and powerful black and white illustrations managed to reach the children and offered them a friendlier and happier sight of the world. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I began collecting children's books after I left Romania for a new life in Sweden, where I work on my master's degree in Graphic Design and Illustration. Although I chose to work with graphic design, I'm happy to live and learn in a country with an old, worldwide respected tradition in children's literature illustration. The first Swedish illustrated book for children (it was actually a book for girls, "flickbok" – a kind of princess book, "Een sköön och härligh jungfrw speghel"), appeared in 1591, and after World War II many artists contributed to the open and realist-naive style of Swedish children's illustration. This highly subjective iconography of the anthology may be the start for a mapping of Romanian children's illustration and a modest presentation of some of the Romanian illustrators that populated the universe of our childhood.

by Arina Stoenescu