So far, my Children’s Book of the Month posts have featured books that I’ve been reading and reviewing each month, but this time, the book/s I want to write about is an old childhood favourite which I haven’t read in a while–The Adventures of Dunno and His Friends by Nikolai Nosov.
Dunno (Neznaika) was actually one of my mother’s childhood books, and when she found them in a book fair when I was a child, she bought them for me. What I had (and still have–most) were separate chapters of the book published as individual books, each about 20 pages with beautiful illustrations and artwork. While I don’t quite remember how many I had originally, as of now, I have seven of these, some quite shabby but still, at least I have them. The only full edition I’ve seen didn’t have all the illustrations in colour so I prefer the individual chapters. The only think I’m not sure of is whether all the chapters are available as individual books-Goodreads lists only 17 and the last I have is 15.
Dunno and his friends are mites, creatures, the tallest of whom is only about as tall as a pine cone, and live in Flower Town in fairyland. Flower Town is a very pretty place. In Nosov’s words (the translator is Margaret Wettlin):
Around every house grew daisies, dandelions, and honeysuckle, and the streets were all named after flowers, Blue-bell Street, Daisy Lane, and Primrose Avenue….It stood on the bank of a little brook. The Mites called it Cucumber River because so many cucumbers grew on its banks.
(From The Mites of Flower Town)
Though they live in Fairy Land, they don’t have any magical powers as such. Dunno, of course, is one who doesn’t really know very much about anything, and while he wants to do many things, he doesn’t really want to do any work. He also enjoys telling lots of tales to people, with the result that few who know him believe him. He is described as:
Dunno wore a bright blue hat, bright yellow trousers, a bright orange shirt, and a bright green tie. He was very fond of bright colours.
(From The Mites of Flower Town)
The town has both boy mites and girl mites, but neither group wants to be friends with the other. The other boy mites, and Dunno’s friends (or at least acquaintances) include Doono who knows everything as he always reads books; Dr Pillman, the doctor; Glass-eye the astronomer; Bendum and Twistum the mechanics; Trickly Sweeter who drank frizzy drinks with plenty of syrup; Gunky who is Dunno’s friend; Blobs the artist; and Trills the musician, among others.
In the first few chapters, Dunno tries his hands at all sorts of things, playing music, painting, writing poetry, and also takes a ride in a soda-water car. Of course, he doesn’t really want to put in any work to actually learn these things and ends up getting into a lot of trouble, such as being chased out of town for playing his music. His paintings including portraits such as of Dr Pillman with a thermometer for a nose; and one of Doono with donkey ears.
Doono with his donkey ears (by Boris Kalushin; sorry about the terrible photo (by me))
Then, one day, Doono makes a balloon and the boy mites set off in it on an adventure. There is an accident, and they find themselves in a town of girl mites, Greenville. Here Dunno is separated from the rest of his friends, who have landed in hospital, and begins to tell the girl mites all sorts of stories including claiming that he invented the balloon that brought them there.
The full version of the book has 30 chapters in which Dunno and the rest of his friends have various adventures in Greenville and also I think in Kite Town where their boy-mites (the Greenville girl mites also do not speak to their boy mites) live, before they return finally to Flower Town. These are more or less light-hearted, humorous stories, but there is also much adults would enjoy, besides the stories themselves of course. For one, there are quite a few fun and witty observations, like the one I had as this week’s Bookquote (here) or this one
Some people think that the higher you go, the warmer it becomes. That is not true. The higher you go, the colder it is, because the sun heats the earth with its rays. The earth becomes like a stove, and everybody knows that the closer you are to a stove, the warmer it is.
From, An Accident
I haven’t of course, read these recently, but wikipedia points out that one can find themes of feminism, egalitarianism, and communism explored in the stories, so adults would enjoy them on this count as well. Come to think of it, I do remember the stories focusing on how the girl mites could do as many or more things than the boy mites including dangerous things like harvesting apples–these were much bigger than the mites and could crush them if one fell on them.
‘The boys think they’re terribly brave but we are just as brave as they are’ said Snowdrop. ‘Just see how high those two girls have climbed.’
‘But girls don’t go up in balloons and ride round in motor cars’, said Dunno.
‘Oh, don’t they?’, said Snowdrop. ‘Lots of our girls know how to drive’.
(From A Walk About Town)
Besides the stories themselves (or the story itself, depending on which version one is reading), I love the artwork by Boris Kalushin–both full-page illustrations, and ones amidst the text, these colourful pictures really bring alive the story, and the lands that the mites live in. (One of my favourites is of the giant watermelon in Greenville, which the girl mites use for juice). So I would recommend a version with his illustrations, if you can find one. The Adventures of Dunno and His Friends was published in 1954, and there are two other Dunno books, Dunno in Sun City (1958), and Dunno on the Moon (1966), but these I haven’t read yet.
Russian stamp featuring Dunno.
Source: By Scanned and processed by Mariluna (Personal collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Have you come across or read Dunno before? How did you like the stories? Any other childhood picture-book favourites you would like to recommend? Looking forward to hearing about them!