Czech illustrative artist, Jiří Trnka was born 102 years ago on 24 February 1912 in Plzeň. Originally interested in puppet-making, he became a student of Josef Skupa at the School of Applied Arts in Prague (Academy of Architecture, Art and Design) where he completed his apprenticeship between 1929 and 1935. In later life, he became a motion-picture animator and film director. His movies, aimed at adult audiences, were adaptations from literary works. At one time he was referred to as the “Walt Disney of Eastern Europe.”
He was best known as an illustrator of children’s books. He was hired by the Prague publishing house Melantrich. Throughout his life, he illustrated over 130 works of literature, mostly for children. Many of these included illustrations for:
- “Mr. Boska The Tiger of Vítezslaw Šmejc”, (1937).
- The Tales of the Brothers Grimm, as well as collections of folktales from Czech authors such as:
- Jirí Horák and Jan Pálenícek,
- Bajaja by Vladimír Holan, (1955),
- The Tales of Andersen and Perrault,
- The fables of La Fontaine,
- “The Thousand and One Nights“,
- Several works of Shakespeare; and
- Lewis Caroll’s, “Alice in Wonderland”.
In honor of his career as a children’s illustrator, the International Board on Books for Young People awarded him its biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration in 1968. He died the following year on 30 December, 1969 in Prague.
Trnka wrote and illustrated his own children’s books. One of these was one of my childhood favorites, “Through the Magic Gate” (1962). Images above are from this wonderful story. The following is from the blurb, inside the dust jacket:
“On their way to school five boys find a magic gate set in a high wall made of stone. The gate was heavy and covered with rust with a lock and handle too high to reach. They tried so hard, with so many items to try and open the gate but to no avail. Then it magically opened in to a strange garden. The garden was full of enchantment and surprises.”
If that doesn’t make you want to investigate more, you do not need to go “Through the Magic Gate!”