Peek Inside Thousands of Soviet Children's Books From Princeton University

Tea (Чай) by David Shterenberg, 1931. Courtesy Princeton University
Tea (Чай) by David Shterenberg, 1931. Courtesy Princeton University

Thousands of rarely seen Soviet children’s books are now available online. Playing Soviet: The Visual Languages of Early Soviet Children’s Books 1917-1953, a digital database, draws on Princeton University’s collection of 2500 Soviet picture books to create an interactive visual exhibition on the role of illustration and kid’s literature in the U.S.S.R. It includes digitized books with essays and annotations by scholars of Russian literature and history.

“In the selections featured here, the user can see first-hand the mediation of Russia’s accelerated violent political, social and cultural evolution from 1917 to 1953,” the website explains. “As was clear both from the rhetoric of the arbiters of Soviet culture—its writers and government officials—the illustration and look of Soviet children’s books was of tantamount importance as a vehicle for practical and concrete information in the new Soviet regime.”

How the Revolution Was Victorious (Как победила революция) by Alisa Poret, 1930. Courtesy Princeton University

Many of the books were designed to indoctrinate children into the world of the “right” way to think about Soviet culture and history. For instance, in a book titled How the Revolution Was Victorious (Как победила революция), the overt aim of the publisher was to teach children born just after the October Revolution of 1917 what happened—namely, as Yuri Leving writes in the book’s analysis on the site, “to ensure the correct interpretation of the anti-governmental coup among the young generation of new Soviet readership.”

Youth, Go! (Юность, иди!) by A. Gastev and I. Shpinel, 1923. Courtesy Princeton University

This emphasis on children’s picture books as a tool for Soviet teachings elevated the role of the illustrator and artist in culture. Illustrators were considered on par with the great writers of the day and were given the opportunity to incorporate new, avant-garde styles into books for children and young adults.

Youth, Go! (Юность, иди!), a trade-union-commissioned manual on becoming an efficient worker, featured Cubo-Futurist and Constructivist illustrations that urged young people to become hyper-efficient machines, both mentally and physically.

The Song of the Dirigible (Песнь о дирижабле) by Nina Sakonskaia and V.P. Akhmetev, 1931. Courtesy Princeton University

The books included in Playing Soviet don’t include full English translations, but they are annotated to reveal important aspects of the artwork and the text. You can flip through the digital books or scroll through selections of individual pages from the whole collection. You can also search by artist, author, subject, year, or even color. The project is ongoing, and according to Princeton, the image database will add about 100 new images per year from now on.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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Florence’s Plague-Era Wine Windows Are Back in Business

A wine window in Florence's Via Santo Spirito.
A wine window in Florence's Via Santo Spirito.

Many bars and restaurants have started selling takeout cocktails and other alcoholic beverages to stay in business—and keep customers safe—during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, 17th-century Florentines are surely applauding from their front-row seats in the afterlife.

As Insider reports, a number of buildings in Florence had been constructed with small “wine windows,” or buchette del vino, through which vendors sold wine directly to less affluent customers. When the city suffered an outbreak of plague in the 1630s, business owners recognized the value of these windows as a way to serve people without spreading germs. They even exchanged money on a metal tray that was sanitized with vinegar.

Wine not?sailko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Things eventually went back to normal, and the windows slowly fell out of fashion altogether as commerce laws evolved. This year, however, they’ve made a comeback. According to Food & Wine, there are currently at least four in operation around Florence. Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi is using its window to deliver wine and cocktails, for example, and the Vivoli ice cream shop, a go-to dessert spot since 1929, is handing out sweet scoops and coffee through its formerly dormant aperture.

Apart from the recent resurgence of interest, the wine windows often go unnoticed by tourists drawn to the grandeur of attractions like the Uffizi Gallery and the Florence Cathedral. So in 2015, locals Matteo Faglia, Diletta Corsini, and Mary Christine Forrest established the Wine Window Association to generate some buzz. In addition to researching the history of the windows, they also keep a running list of all the ones they know of. Florence has roughly 150, and there are another 100 or so in other parts of Tuscany.

They’re hoping to affix a plaque near each window to promote their stories and discourage people from defacing them. And if you want to support their work, you can even become a member of the organization for €25 (about $29).

[h/t Insider]