New York: W.W. Norton & Company, (1963). Single volume, measuring 7.25 x 5 inches: , 6-95. Original yellow pictorial boards stamped in blue and red, color pictorial endpapers, original color pictorial dust jacket. Line drawings, some in color, throughout text. Clipped lower front jacket flap, discreet archival tape repair to verso of jacket spine, small retailer’s sticker to verso of final page.
First American edition of Harum Scarum, a classic of Czech children’s literature, written and illustrated by Josef Capek. During the interwar period, Capek and his younger brother, Karel, were central members of the Czech avant-garde and frequent collaborators: although Karel is often credited with introducing the word “robot” in his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), Josef was the true originator of the term. While Karel remains the more famous of the brothers, remembered for his plays, novels, and translations, Josef was influential in his own right. He authored several children’s books, of which Harum Scarum is the most celebrated. First published in 1929 as The Adventures of Puss and Pup, this 1963 translation introduced an American audience to Capek’s playful sensibility and Bohemian folk art-inspired illustrations. Puss and Pup strive to complete daily human tasks, with mixed results. An attempt to mend Pup’s trousers falls comically short: “‘Good gracious, no!’ rejoined the hen. ‘Upon my soul, that was a worm, not a piece of string!’” After surviving seven years as a prisoner in various concentration camps, Josef Capek nearly lived to see the end of World War II, but died of pneumonia in Bergen-Belsen just days before its liberation in 1945. A near-fine copy of this imaginative storybook by an important Czech modernist.