The Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the McGill University Libraries maintains a website for their exhibition on Children’s Books of the Early Soviet Era:

The present exhibition in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the McGill University Libraries draws on an important collection of more than 350 Soviet children’s books published in the 1920s and 30s and which are remarkable for their original aesthetic quality, linguistic variety and thematic diversity. Dynamic constructivist typography utilized the expressive quality of the stocky, ‘architectural’ azbuka, the Russian alphabet. Diagonal layouts introduced a simultaneous representation of contents and often used photomontage as a succinct expression of the narrative text. The emblematic use of red and black as dominant colours linked the children’s material closely to the publishing output at large. Since more than 100 nationalities live within the fifteen former republics of the USSR, the variety of languages in which children’s books were published is nothing short of astonishing. While Russian was the official language of the Union, children’s books published in Ukrainian, Uzbek, Tartar, Kazakh, Azerbaidzhani, Armenian, Georgian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, lakutian, Nanaian and other languages are well represented in the McGill collection.

I am naturally particularly interested in the language section, which I wish were larger; furthermore, they don’t identify the language of this one, obviously in one of the romanized Turkic alphabets of the ’20s… but which? I can’t find “Ofo” in any of my reference books, but desperate googling has turned up “Nathershina, F. A. 1992. Rukhi khazinalar: Asylykul, Dim, Orshak buiy bashqorttarynyng fol’klory. Ofo: Bashqortostan Respublikahy Mathaniat Ministerstvohy, Respublika khalyq izhady uthage, 76 pp., bibliog., music” in this bibliography, so I’m assuming it’s Bashkir until better evidence comes along. [Fine detective work from entangledbank in the comments has shown that “Ofo” is the Bashkir equivalent of Russian Ufa, the name of the capital of Bashkortostan, so this is indeed a Bashkir book.]
(Via MeFi and MoFi.)


  1. The capital of Bashkortostan is Ufa, and that could become Ofo in some romanizations (cf. O’zbekiston, the current name for that country); but I think that letter is not an O but a struck-through O, that is a Cyrillic Ö. Googling for this finds what seems to me (I can’t tell the difference between them either) to be a Bashkir poem in which Öfö corresponds to (presumably Russian) Ufa:

  2. Well done! We’ll take that as firmly established, and I can strike one item off my life list of language puzzles.

  3. Dang! Got beat to the punch. It took me a minute or so, but when I saw “Turkic” and the letter “o,” I quickly started thinking of cities that start with “u.” The “O’zbekiston” example is perfect. That sound was tricky to learn (not as tricky as the “g'” sound). Our language teachers had a really hard time writing Uzbek with the Latin script because they had a hard time remembering the “standard” pronucation of certain words. This made all the difference with “U,” “O,” and “O'” and the hard and soft “kh/x.”
    I didn’t even see the mention of Bashkortostan for some reason. I’m a lazy reader.

  4. I still have reprint of Lebedev/Marshak “Usatyi polosatyi”. Reminds me to give it to my sister for my nephew’s Russian education.
    Beautiful exhibition, for sure. Makes me Montreal-sick. Again.

  5. When my son was young (ca, 1977) we bought a number of English-language translations of Eastern-bloc children’s books for him. It was have been one of those Cold War thaw cultural exchange thingies.
    The one I vividly remember was a Bulgarian story called “The Wheaten Loaf”. The subversive import is pretty obvious: a wheaten loaf escapes from the bakery, rolls to his natal field, and warns the sprouting blades of wheat that they, too, inevitably will be made into wheaten loaves.
    They say that the sharpest people those days specialized in children’s books, translating, and other neutral fields.
    Years later I met a woman whose mother was a Bulgarian artist emigre, but never was able to ask her whether she knew anything about that book.

  6. I, too, have been told that Ufa is Öfö in Bashkir. Expats have a lovely custom of stressing the first syllable in Ufa: OO-fah, which sounds inexplicably funny to a Russian ear.

  7. Just thought of something.
    Alexei, do you think the Bulgarian children story mentioned above could be a variation of the “Kolobok” tale?

  8. The kolobok tale, for those following along at home.

  9. Being a Bashkir, I can confirm: this book is in Bashkir.

  10. Hi, Yabalak! I’m very happy to know I have a Bashkir reader.

  11. Hi, Language Hat! Me to I’m happy. I am your faithful reader for 15 years. I speak Russian, Bashkir, Tatar, English, French and Khmer. I am now director of Alliance Française de Oufa.

  12. Sixteen years later, I’m impressed that that exhibition link still works!

    Yabalak: If you’re still a faithful reader, I hope you’re keeping well in this difficult time — you don’t seem to be affiliated with Alliance Française de Oufa any more, but perhaps you’ve found something better.

  13. David Marjanović says

    I was going to complain about de Oufa. Fortunately, that form isn’t found on the website, except for the URL of this page:

    L’Alliance Française à Oufa

    Qu’est-ce que l’Alliance ?


    Ici vous trouverez quelques informations sur la Fondation Alliance Française, sur l’Alliance Française Oufa et sur la ville d’Oufa en elle même.

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