Pomp and Snark: Drawings by Svjetlan Junaković

*click images to view full size

One needs no further proof of Croatian illustrator Svjetlan Junaković’s industriousness than the following photo:

books in studio
image source: dossier on Junaković’ prepared by the Croatian section of IBBY for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Jury

Granted, some of these are translated editions. But still!

I can’t read a single word of Croatian, but Junaković’s books still made me laugh out loud. I will get to the hilarious stuff, but first, here are two examples of Junaković”s technique:

Tesla, cover
Nikola Tesla: Snovi koji su nam donijeli struju (Nikola Tesla: the dreams that brought us electricity) by Vera Vujović

A glance at Tesla’s abbreviated bio reveals that in addition to being known as the brilliant inventor of, among other things, the Tesla coil, he was also perceived as a “mad scientist.” In the United States, we tend to white-wash inventors (among other things), but Junaković’s pastiche-like take on Tesla’s life–and madness–takes the young reader on an educational, and refreshingly topsy-turvy, ride.

Next is the darling and clever Pequeño gran mundo (“Small big world”), which luckily for me is available in Spanish! All of the poems are delightful, but the following was one of my favorites:

Pequeno gran mundo, image

Here is my approximate, and imperfect, translation:

“The Sheep and the Mouse”
Why don’t sheep have wool on their feet?
At times it gets very, very cold, and it is almost impossible
to find socks for a sheep.
But luckily, they have so much wool that
thanks to the help of a good friend, their feet never get cold. 

Riddles are almost always better in the original Spanish; there’s just something about the language that’s inherently more playful than English, and I think even a non-speaker can sense that if he or she reads the original text.

But where Junaković really shines is in his sarcastic take on fine art. In Ti racconto L’Arte del ‘900 (“Let me tell you about the Art of the 900s”), for example, Junaković introduces kids to famous 20th-century artists by reinterpreting and subtly mocking their work. Below is a typical page focused on Renee Magritte. I didn’t have time to write down all of the translated text as presented in the dossier, but I do remember that Junaković took substantial liberties when recounting each artist’s biography, their careers, and the meanings of each of their works–all to hilarious effect!

Ti racconto L'arte, image 2

Which leads me to my favorite book, both written and illustrated, by Svjetlan Junaković: “The Big Book of Classical Animal Portraits.”

Das grose buch, cover
Das große Buch der klassischen Tierporträts, translated from Croatian to German by Alida Bremer

Do you recognize Scarlett Johansson Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring?” But this is no girl–nay, it is a modest, young female sheep. According to Junaković:

“this painting represents a masterpiece in art portraiture of the 17th century…it portrays a beautiful sheep with a blue turban gazing softly… Due to the immense popularity of this painting, the model chose to remain anonymous in order to retain her privacy. Even today in the region where the painting originates it is said that ‘one has the charming gaze like the sheep with the pearl earring.'”
-translated to English by Nikolina Jovanovic

The fun has only begun.

No longer is La Mort de Marat (The Death of Marat), the famous painting of the murdered French revolutionary, a solemn affair. Junaković subverts artist Jacques Louis David’s classical masterpiece by substituting a chicken for the dashing and unfortunate Jean-Paul Marat.

Das gros buch, image 4

“Dying in the bathroom isn’t a rarity. Dying by the hand of your lover, even less so, but to allow oneself to be portrayed whilst dead in the bath – that’s surely a rarity! Precisely this bizarre theme, just as the unusual technique of the painting, classify this portrait amongst the most vital of Neo-Classical paintings. What more to say than the line between perfectionism and death is very fine.”
-Reimagined by Junaković, and translated to English by Nikolina Jovanovic

It goes on and on, each painting and description more ridiculous than the last. The book shatters the pretentiousness of fine art, while simultaneously taking a more sophisticated approach to the overdone “animal story” for children. The result is a book that delights children and adults alike.

For more information about Svjetlan Junaković, visit his website. (P.S. Apparently some of Junaković’s books are available in English as part of the “Animagicals” series).

A reminder, as always, that this is part of a series I’m doing on outstanding illustrators nominated for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award. I’ve still got two more illustrators to feature before the winner is announced on Monday, March 24! Click the permanent link to “Children’s Literature” in the right side panel to view previous entries. 


14 thoughts on “Pomp and Snark: Drawings by Svjetlan Junaković

    1. Oh, absolutely. North American children’s books are absolutely sanitized, and as a result often less interesting and creative! But it’s not just the children’s books—I distinctly remember a passage from “The Bang Bang Club” about South African photojournalists in the 1990s where the narrator pointed out that the most violent and/or disturbing images wouldn’t get accepted by U.S. newspapers.

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