Stories as Reactions to Cruelty

Two illustrated children's books from the publishing house Brak - Krutá Marta / The Cruel Marta and Posledný permoník / The Last Permoník - are interesting not only in terms of a good story, but also because they are both beautifully illustrated and because each refers to a mining town. Both deal with the topic of violence and bullying. Krutá Marta tortures animals and in Kremnica, Adam is being bullied by Marcel. 

From insensitivity to friendship

Krutá Marta / Cruel Marta written by Marek Vadas and illustrated by Daniela Olejníková, is about little Marta who treats her grandmother's animals cruelly. In the linear story about Marta, the animals take revenge. They scare the little girl in order to wake her up and to make her treat them with respect [...]. 

And so Marta experiences first-hand what it means to be scared. Thanks to empathy, Marta learns not to pull on the cat's whiskers and tail, not to chase the hens and not to torture the rabbit: "Marta liked the cat's meowing and the hen's mad running. She couldn't imagine how the animals felt when she played her pranks on them. She felt like it was just a game and never thought about whether the animals were enjoying it the way she did." What Marta viewed as fun was a painful fight for life for the animals. 

A book that stands out

The story is meant for younger children who are learning to read. Expressive, colorful illustrations by Daniela Olejníková tell us also about Banská Štiavnica, the town where Marta spends her holidays. At the heart of the story are the animals, including the goat "with a diabolical grin", a piglet which to Marta appears to be "three-headed fanged" and a cat who morphs into a tiger in a moment of Marta's cruelty. 

Contrasting neon pictures of the fauna are complemented by subtle, detailed drawings of the flora: currants, wild roses, red poppies, hop and mushrooms smell like the summer and holidays at grandma's who just "made the dough for sweet buns." Thanks to Olejníková's visual execution, you will not be able to miss this book on the shelves of your bookstore. 

Mining History

While Cruel Marta refers to Banská Štiavnica in its illustrations, the book Posledný permoník / The Last Permoník (translator's note: in Slovakia, a permoník is a cave dwarf specific to and associated with mining tunnels and with mining per se) takes place in the town of Kremnica. Kremnica is palpable in the text, especially through the region's dialect and mining jargon. 

The hero of the book, a boy named Adam, moves with his mom, an otorhinolaryngologist, to her home town of Kremnica where they will live with his grandparents. At first, things are hard for Adam. 

Grandma makes her apricot jam with skins, and her coacoa also has a skin, and what is even worse, his classmates treat him badly. Adam is not interested in the mining stories and Kremnica legends his grandfather is telling him. He would much rather be friends with the pretty fourth-grader from the nice-smelling candy store, or with Marcel who is the only one who can play soccer. But Marcel and his friends bully Adam and they end up locking him up in an old mining tunnel. The story becomes dangerous and thrilling: "He tried to pull his foot out a couple of times but it got even worse.The stone was too big and too heavy. He was unable to lift it by himself. And the more he moved, the more the stone pressed and Adam risked having his foot squashed flat." (p. 18)

Luckily, Adam is found by Permoník who helps him to return home. This experience ignites Adam's curiosity in the history of Kremnica, its legends and dialect. Adam's encounter with Permoník contains humour and linguistic facts: "And how did you come up with those strange words?  First 'high-five', then 'outfit'. German doesn't know words like that!" "Those are English words. We adapted them from English and we use them. We do the same as you do with German." (p. 65)


Fantastic and realistic

Permoník is not the only supernatural being in the story. The Black Knight comes to Marcel to revenge Adam, Adam's mom fishes out the Stingy Collier out of Permoník's ear and the coacoa topped off with a skin is drunk by The White Snake with a crown on its head. Just like that, a realistic story turns into the genre of children's fantasy, intertextually referring to various legends and to the regional history of Kremnica: "Permoník was in awe of street lights, admitting that it was a very practical invention. He wished he had a similar system underground! He knew from reading The Kremnica News that the lights were installed by Bohuslav Križko in 1887. [...]" (p. 53)

Supernatural characters help Adam solve the relationship problems he has with his friends and his grandparents. Adam even overcomes his fear of the dark cellar as well as the disgust he feels when facing a cup of warm coacoa with a skin on top. The White Snake inspires him to prepare the coacoa himself. The story prompts the young reader towards independence: Adam walks to school alone, he helps Permoník and he also helps his friend with homework. 


Dialect and mining jargon

Linguistically, the book is attractive for the mining expressions and Kremnica dialect, used in a fun and playful way: "This is tsufeel! (This is too much!)" [...] (p. 70)

Just like the text, the playful illustrations of Eva Škandíková help the young reader learn something about Kremnica - about the town's geography and history. There is a map of Kremnica printed on the end-sheet of the book. An anatomical drawing of the ear with a detailed description is another bonus. The golden color of the illustrations, the letters and the bookmark is a motif connecting contemporary reality with history and fantasy: Permoník's golden nuggets are magically transformed into euros and in the mint, Permoník sees golden florens [...]. In the book, the famous history of a mining town comes back to life. 




Marek Vadas: Krutá Marta

Illustrations: Daniela Olejníková

Bratislava: Brak, 2020


Tereza Oľhová a Eva Škandíková: Posledný Permoník

Illustrations: Eva Škandíková

Bratislava: Brak, 2020

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