For Christmas in 1960, the neighbor across the street, Beulah Jones, gave me a book titled Corky Learns a Lesson. Illustrated by Zdeněk Miler, the story of Corky was a little too young for a boy already in grade school, but I loved the book all the same and love it just as much today.
Zdeněk Miler’s Illustration in Emil Ludvik’s Corky Learns a Lesson
Translated by Daphne Rusbridge (1960)
Corky Learns a Lesson was based on a film, About Kohoutkovia Hen, and featured a text by Emil Ludvik that was translated by Daphne Rusbridge. As with Disney-style animation, the rooster (named Corky) and the hen (named—Are you ready?—Henny) stand out from the richly painted backdrops. Warm orange, soft tan, moss green, and deep brown characterize the fifteen full-page illustrations measuring approximately 21 by 29 cm. Even though the scenes were European, I felt at home among the woodpiles, strings of onions, pitchforks, brooks, barns, baskets, and butter churns. As I was living on a farm, I was well acquainted with all such details. I remember thinking that Miler and I were fellow artists, for I had begun to consider myself one who might one day wield a mighty pen. Mrs. Hail, my first-grade teacher, may have encouraged me when she found I had made exact copies of the dogs in the drawings in our textbooks. My mother certainly rewarded me with compliments for my art. So whether I had any talent or not, I believed I did. … and believing is nine-tenths of fulfilling dreams.
I turned to Miler’s marvelous scenes again and again. Even now, as I page through the book, I am transported to the places Miler imagined. Most importantly, I feel no stress—only joy, tranquility, and security. Thistles without prickles and a friendly blue-eyed cow help convey the peacefulness of the rural environment. The sole threat consists of red berries that Corky finds too attractive, but I will say no more as I would not want to spoil the ending.
My father raised chickens, and, even at a young age, I recognized that Miler’s rooster and hen were lifelike. Their poses typified the chickens in my father’s yard, and I considered accuracy the highest goal of a truthful artist.
How little could I foresee that my life would take me away from the farm to spend years and years in cities! … yet, no matter how loud the sirens and jets, the rural spaces within my memory filled my hours with the crowing of roosters and the mooing of cows. I discovered I had never really left the farm; rather, I had brought the farm with me wherever I went.
… and I still have Corky Learns a Lesson to page through, reliving the playfulness and dreaminess of my childhood.