Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In The Silver Crest: My Russian Boyhood, Kornei Chukovsky recounts with humor and pathos the events of several years of his life, from the ages of thirteen to eighteen. It was a time of trauma, yet the author writes of it with much humor. That Chukovsky became Russia’s beloved children’s poet, the author of critical and scholarly works, and a translator of Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, O. Henry, and many others is a tribute to his determination to overcome adversity.

The book is divided into twenty-six chapters describing the young Chukovsky’s experience in a Russian gymnasium (university preparatory school) and his abrupt dismissal from that institution. In the 1890’s, almost no education was provided for the poor in czarist Russia. Fortunate boys attended private schools from the ages of nine to seventeen, if their parents could pay the high tuition. Chukovsky recalls that his mother washed clothes at night and ironed by day in order to pay for her son’s schooling, including his uniform and the important school cap with its centered silver crest of two oak leaves—hence, the title of the book.

The chapters include flashbacks and digressions, allowing the author to include details of life in Odessa and its varied inhabitants. The gymnasium’s demanding course of study included Greek, Latin, French, Russian grammar and literature, algebra, and chemistry. The school authorities brooked no infraction of the...

(The entire section is 426 words.)