Irina Zabrodina
Korney Chukovsky: Russia’s Roald Dahl

Moscow Time/ October 2010

More than 40 years after his death, Korney Chukovsky remains one of Russias best-loved children’s authors, and his classic books such as Doctor Aibolit, about a doctor who speaks to animals, are still widely read.

Every September, fans of the author take part in a tradition started by the author himself: the Goodbye Summer party for children at his dacha in Peredelkino, outside Moscow.

The campfires at Chukovskys house were set up by the author in 1955, said Sergei Belorusets, head of the Chukovsky children’s festival.

His house was always full of children; he invented different games to play with kids.

The tradition was revived 10 years ago, and this year party at his dacha marked the 55th anniversary of the first campfire.

Chukovsky wrote short stories and poems, whose clockwork rhythms and air of mischief and lightness, as one critic wrote, have captivated children — although not always parents.

One of his most famous poems is The Crocodile, which he told to his son during a train journey. His son remembered the tale, and that was how the poem got written down when they returned.

I like reading Chukovsky to my daughter Arina, who is three years old, said Valentina Shadrina, 34, a housewife. «She enjoys the rhythm of the verses and memorises them very quickly.

Some very little children seem to be actually afraid of the characters, said Tatyana Stupnikova, a speech therapist for preschoolers. You have to be very careful when reading Chukovsky to a child — some very sensitive listeners might not like it.

Poet Anna Akhmatova once said Chukovskys children verse was sadistic, a charge that has been made about many children authors, including Roald Dahl.

Apart from being a children’s author, Chukovsky was also a professional reporter, translator and psychologist, who had a great impact on the issue of childhood education. His most famous work about children — rather than for children — is From Two to Five , which came out in 1933, about children speaking abilities.

He was also a writer, who, according to his diaries (which are also published in English), tried to help other Soviet writers when they fell foul of the authorities.

When Boris Pasternak, who lived not far from Chukovsky in Peredelkino, won the Nobel Prize, Chukovsky was the only official writer to congratulate him.

After Chukovsky death in 1969, his dacha was turned into a museum, and visitors can take tours around the old wooden house that contains his vast book collection.

Many of the books are in English. Before the Revolution, Chukovsky worked as a reporter in London, where he met writers HG Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle. He would later translate American poet Walt Whitman, as well as Daniel Defoe and Rudyard Kipling.