Behind the Iron Curtain part 18 – Periodicals for Children

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.

From a child’s perspective, this is one of those things again that the regime got at least mostly right, if not outright right. There were at lest five different magazines specifically for children, with target audiences from 6 to 18 years. Unfortunately most of them do not exist anymore, except one and the last issues I have seen of that one do not hold a candle to what it used to be – too many advertisements, too little real content.

The magazine I am talking about is ABC mladých techniků a přírodovědců (ABC of young technicians and natural scientists). I still have a stack of old issues that I have not thrown away and sometimes I still go through them and occasionally learn a new thing or two.

That particular magazine has a unique format – there are articles about science, technology and nature and occasional story of course and I learned a lot about those things from it. But it also featured two regular features that no other magazine in our country at that time had – paper models and comics.

The paper models are what made the magazine extremely popular and famous, and in my opinion also most useful for a young kid. I know people, even in my family, who sneer at that notion, but the truth is that even today I and I am sure my brother as well are using the skills learned while cutting, measuring and gluing paper models together. And by using I mean getting paid, because making models gives one nimble fingers, teaches patience and trains spatial intelligence. It is a pity that since made from paper, those models were not particularly long-lived so none of them survived until today. They required way to much care and collected way too much dust to be kept in a household with three asthmatics.

The comics were, in my non-humble opinion, much better than whatever nonsense Marvel is peddling. There were no superheroes and no mages. Over the years there were multiple series, and they all excelled in the past in one thing – combining education with entertainment. One series was entirely devoted to Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle. One was about a robot uprising. And one particularly long-lived one was about a group of Pionýrs doing the things that kids do – going to school, going outside, camping, fighting etc.

It was full of covert propaganda of course, but even in retrospect it was mostly not propaganda that I particularly mind. Most of it was about the importance of having useful skills and knowledge, about not being an asshole and taking care of other people as well as yourself. Things that I personally think children should learn as a matter of course wherever they live.


  1. Kreator says

    Oh, I feel you. We used to have a lot of these periodicals in Argentina as well, until they begun to loose quality and eventually all but disappear. So far the only classic one still in print is Billiken, which has been published continuously almost for a century (first issue: November 17, 1919) though nowadays it’s only a shadow of its former self. Its closest competitor was Anteojito, which was first published in October 8, 1964 but had to end its run in 2001 amid the fierce economic crisis that Argentina then suffered. Then there was Lúpin, oriented perhaps towards an older audience including adults, which was also hobbyist-oriented and included articles on aeromodelling, camping and electronics, among other things.
    Of course, despite their usefulness, these periodicals had their own problems as well, also sometimes being a vehicle for propaganda, though in this case leaning towards conservatism. In fact, during the military dictatorships they mostly towed the illegitimate governments’ party line. Also, if you browse the images, especially of older editions, you are likely to come across examples of sexism and racism in the form of stereotypes up to and including blackface.
    Another interesting, if very short-lived periodical (1982-1983), was Humi, which was post-dictatorship and actually came from a much more progressive publishing house.

  2. rq says

    Frankly, I don’t know of any educational-yet-fun children’s periodical here anymore. Ah, wait, there’s one, a version of Science Illustrated Junior, but it’s kind of bland and doesn’t get into any nitty-gritty stuff. I know there used to be all kinds, there’s a famous edition from one of them that talked about sex, and Husband talks about them every now and then.

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