Miroslav Sasek (1916 – 1980) was a Czeck born author and illustrator, trained as an architect, he emigrated to West Germany in 1948. The ‘This is..’ series began in 1959 with ‘This is Paris’, and continued through 1970 to include 18 locations including London, Venice, San Francisco, Rome, and Australia. Universe, an imprint of Rizzoli, has reissued most of the series in beautifully printed hardcover editions. Starting with ‘This is New York’ in 2003, through ‘This is Australia’ in 2009.
I had not heard of this series until we received Sasek’s ‘This is New York’ as a gift. It is now one of our son’s favorite books. He loves seeing the brightly colored cars and big buildings. There’s page after page of peppy mid-century style illustrations of New York City. There’s no ‘story’ here per se, just facts and figures of the day pertaining to NYC. Like a lot of reissued children’s books, especially non-fiction, new information is included where any fact or figure may have changed over the years. Though the nice thing about these editions is that the original text is printed as Sasek wrote it, if there is an update to any fact an asterix is included with the new information noted on a single page at the back of the book, so these updates are not at all obtrusive.
What helps to make this book so charming is the inclusion of not just a list of facts and figures accompanied by illustrations, but plenty of detail on the human scale of the city as well. Making it much more relatable, especially for a five year old who likes to see some trucks and will laugh at the antics of the kids and adults depicted in Sasek’s illustrations.
Facts are listed, but information is presented along with personal asides, giving the book some personality:
‘Brooklyn Bridge, crossing the East River, is the oldest and is popular with everyone from cameramen to songwriters.’
Well known sites are included such as the Statue of Liberty, Guggenheim Museum, and the George Washington bridge:
And plenty of everyday people are depicted as well, such as this food cart man;
and this pizza maker;
We have one other title by Sasek, ‘This is San Francisco’, and I’d like to try to check out some more of his titles. My only complaint is that at just 64 pages it might be too short!