Iconic collection of youth fiction turns 70

Ljubljana – Slovenia’s oldest collection of youth literature, Sinji Galeb (Blue Seagull), is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Since it was conceived by poet Ivan Minatti in 1952 for publisher Mladinska Knjiga, it has brought young readers over 350 quality books of different genres, from adventure and fantasy stories to historical novels and biographies.

Minatti (1924-2012), who edited the collection until the mid 1980s, encouraged Slovenian writers to write good books for kids, while since its start, the collection has also been bringing popular quality foreign books to young Slovenian readers.

“A good share of Slovenian fiction that has become part of literary canon has been published for the first time as part of this collection over the past half a century,” literary historian Marjana Kobe said upon the 50th anniversary of the collection.

“And with translations, it has covered all European countries, Russia, the US, Canada, and also Asia, South America, Africa and Australia with representative books.”

Among the pivotal translations are The Little Prince, published as the 100th book in the collection in 1964, or Pippi Longstocking and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The first book published in the collection was the translation of Hari: The Jungle Lad by India’s Dhan Gopal Mukerji.

However, the collection features many domestic books that practically all Slovenians know, including Janez Jalen’s Beavers, Anton Ingolič’s Secret Society PGC or The Brootherhood of Blue Seagull.

It was this last adventure story by Tone Seliškar, one of the most popular Slovenian youth books, which gave the collection its name.

Mladinska Knjiga published a reworked edition of the book from the mid 1930s after Seliškar, a priest, adjusted it in 1948 to the post-WWII reality.

He eliminated all “Christian elements and added some text to reflect the spirit of common work and collective” spirit, says Alenka Veler, the collection’s current editor.

The novel has been published in more than 160,000 copies in a two-million Slovenian market, translated in several languages, made into a film and a TV series and adapted for theatre. In 2011, Mladinska Knjiga published the pre-war edition, and now a jubilee edition to mark the 70th anniversary.

Collaborating with the publisher on the collection have been a number of best Slovenian illustrators, from Jože Ciuha and Marlenka Stupica to contemporary illustrators Zvonko Čoh, Jelka Godec Schmidt or Damijan Stepančič.

Veler has told the STA that she tries to select books that address contemporary children’s fears and expectations: “I’m sniffing around for works with different themes that are close to how children see the world, themes that talk to them with a well written story and exciting content.”

The publisher will mark the anniversary with a number of events. It will reprint several classics, publish one new Slovenian book and one new translation, while it has already launched a series of book exhibitions in collaboration with libraries and opened a literary competition for school kids.

In June, Kinodvor cinema in Ljubljana will screen films that have been made on the basis of books from the collection.