New Book Continues Balina’s Work on Soviet Children’s Literature
Jan. 21, 2013
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Gaining insight into the development of Soviet children’s literature
in Russia is the focus of a new book co-edited by Illinois Wesleyan University’s Marina
“Two opinions govern the discussion of Soviet children’s literature from the 1920s
and ’30s,” said Balina, the Isaac Funk Professor and Professor of Russian Studies at Illinois Wesleyan. “One opinion sees in it a product of Soviet propaganda directed
at the country’s young citizens. Children’s literature is viewed as a Soviet institution
totally subordinated to the demands of the Communist Party. The other opinion believes
children’s literature was the only free space available to writers who worked during
the Soviet period and had to comply with the universally required Socialist Realism,
the only official artistic method of Soviet literature.
“The development of children’s literature was much more complex than either of those
opinions,” Balina adds.
Her book, To Kill Charskaia: Paradoxes of Soviet Literature for Children, 1920s-1930s (St. Petersburg: Aleteiia, 2012), is co-edited with Dr. Valery Viugin of the Pushkin
House/Institute of Russian Literature, Russian Academy of Science, the oldest research
center in St. Petersburg, Russia (established 1905). The book an outgrowth of a 2009
international conference on children’s literature held at the Institute. To Kill Charskaia’s chapters were contributed by leading scholars in children’s literature from Finland,
Austria, Germany, Great Britain, the United States and Russia. Balina also wrote the
introductory chapter entitled “Soviet Children’s Literature as State Institution:
Beyond Politics and Ideology.”
The book’s title references popular pre-revolutionary children’s writer Lidiia Charskaia
(1875-1937), who, despite her high popularity, was labeled as a “master of middlebrow
literature for children” by her opponents among children’s authors. In the post-revolutionary
years, ‘to kill Charskaia’ and literary production associated with her name became
one of the leading tasks of new Soviet children’s literature, Balina said. “The period
between the 1920s and 1930s marked the most decisive years in establishing children’s
literature in the context of new political and ideological assignments,” Balina said.
“Samuil Marshak, one of the founding fathers of new children’s literature, said that
to create this new literature – ‘to kill Charskaia’s way of writing’ – was not easy,
and it required significant efforts on the part of new writers. We believed that his
statement best illustrated the struggle for the development of new literature for
children so we chose to take part of his statement and use that for our title.”
The editors’ philosophy was to “show the progression from free-spirited discussion
(in children’s literature) to a creation of petrified institution that became structured
according to the demands of the government but didn’t subvert completely,” explained
Balina, who describes herself in this project more as a literary historian rather
than a literary critic. “Children’s literature remained a free-er space among Soviet
literary discourse, but it was a dangerous place as well,” she said, citing children’s
authors who perished under the Stalin Purges of the late 1930s.
Balina also noted there was a division between the children’s literature published
under the Soviet regime and what children were actually reading. Russians have enjoyed
a long tradition of home libraries and personal book collections, Balina said, which
meant some children’s books published before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 were
still widely read and exchanged privately between families.
A native of Russia who earned her doctorate at Leningrad State University (now St.
Petersburg), Balina joined Illinois Wesleyan’s faculty in 1989. A member of the University’s
Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, Balina was first named
to the Isaac Funk Professorship in 2007. A prolific author, Balina has published more
than 40 articles and nine editorial volumes in three languages – Russian, German and
English. A highly requested speaker, Balina is regarded as one of the leading specialists
in Russian children’s literature of the Soviet period and has traveled the world to
present her research to other scholars.
She has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S.
Department of Education, the Austrian Ministry of Culture and the American Association
of Learned Societies.
Balina said she is indebted to the Paul A. Funk Foundation, who made a major gift
to Illinois Wesleyan in 2004 to reestablish the Funk Professorship. “The Funk Foundation
has provided opportunities not just for me, but for other scholars at IWU, to do so
many things on such an important topic,” she said. “In 2010 we hosted an international
colloquium on Childhood and Globalization at Illinois Wesleyan, and in 2011 a group
of IWU professors from various disciplines traveled to Russia to take part in another
international conference dedicated to such an important topic as studies of childhood.
Our students and faculty have benefitted intellectually from funds provided by the
Contact: Kim Hill, (309) 556-3960