First Steps of Children’s Literature in Bulgaria

Prof. Dr. Svetla Karteva-Dancheva

Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski


During the second half of the 18th century significant changes, which lead to the beginning of rapid national ascent, begin. Realizing the necessity of spiritual freedom is supplemented by the revolutionary democratic ideal for national liberation struggle. This determines the two aspects of the great ideological turning point which happens afterwards during the 19-th century.

          Evidence of the intellectual ascent of the Bulgarian people during that impetuous epoch of its historical development is the Bulgarian national Revival literature. Original art phenomenon, which affects the development of Bulgarian literature, is observed during the Bulgarian national Revival period.

At that time new moral ideals are formed – resignation is replaced by industriousness, studiousness, patriotism and religious feeling of belonging to the Christian society. Public schools replace monastery schools.

Rich craftsmen provide training in foreign languages, mathematics, physics, chemistry and geography for their children. The introduction of modern public education creates prerequisites and predetermines the necessity of publishing books for children. That is why exactly during the period of the national Revival the foundations of the Bulgarian children’s literature are laid.

The first children’s books are student’s books and manuals.

In 1824 the first Bulgarian textbook – an ABC book with various lessons - is published by the enlightener Dr Petar Beron. As early as the Revival period it becomes popular as the “Fish ABC book” because of an illustration of a dolphin and a whale at the back of the book.

It consists of following sections:


First Section: 

In fact only this section is an “ABC Book”. It includes the Alphabet, the pronunciation of the letters an explanation of the terms noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb etc.

Second Section:

In this section Petar Beron  includes the Christian prayers, which every child should know.

Third Section:

It is named “Good Advices”. Here the author includes 64 questions and answers about upbringing of the children.

Fourth section:

It is named “Clever answers” Similar to the former section the purpose of this section is to improve children’s education. Episodes from the life of Ancient Greek people are presented.

Fifth section:

Includes very interesting  and cautionary  fables.

Sixth section:

It is named by the author “Various stories”. In it events from the life of ancient civilizations are included.

Seventh Section:

It is named “Phisical Stories”.The section has an encyclopedic feature. In it information about provisions, which are in use in everyday life (salt, tobacco, sugar, coffee) and about unknown in Bulgaria animals (dolphin, crocodile,  camel etc.) is presented.

Eight Section:

This section is dedicated on Mathematics.

In the  introduction of the “Fish ABC book” Petar Beron points out that he does not support monastery education and all books should be written in the living language rather than in Church-Slavonic language. He states the democratic principles of modern pedagogical thought – public education connected to life; training in living people’s language; new relationship between student and teacher.

Petar Beron proposes new methods of education – mutual tutoring. This helps the teacher to teach more students using the knowledge of the better ones, and phonemic instead of the widely spread letter method. The phonemic method is applied to the spoken language and accelerates the process of primary literacy. According to this method each letter is pronounced with its corresponding sound instead of the common spelling in monastery schools where each letter is pronounced with its name. Essentially “The fish ABC book” is a short encyclopedia. Its style is based on the natural living people’s language and lays the foundations of the new Bulgarian literary language.

Due to the new style, contents and language, this book is a revolutionary phenomenon for that time. It appears when the necessity for replacing the old-fashioned monastery school and the unused religious education with modern education, based on science, has risen.  The social and scientific activities of its author Petar Beron, are an expression of the enlightener’s impetus of the spiritually awakened Bulgarian towards enlightenment and knowledge. There are certain facts, which come to show Dr. Beron's standing among scientists of the time. On the session of the Royal Academy of Science in London, held on 20 June 1850, Sir John Lee presented his work On the System of Atmospherology and acknowledged Beron's activity. In 1853 Dr. Beron was invited by the Association of Natural Sciences in Athens where he read an article titled Earth before the Deluge. In 1855 he published his Slavic Philosophy in the German language, where an outline of his Panepisteme is featured. In 1858 Origins of Physical and Natural Sciences and of Metaphysical and Moral Sciences was printed in the French language.

Dr. Petar Beron goes down in the history of Bulgarian culture as the author of the first Bulgarian textbook and as a reformer of the Bulgarian education.

Another important textbook was written by Neofit Bozveli, who  was a Bulgarian cleric and enlightener and one of the leaders of the Bulgarian Church struggle.Born in the lively sub-Balkan town of Kotel in 1875, Bozveli completed his basic education there and may well have been a student of Sophronius of Vratsa. He continued his education afterwards, then joined the Hilendar monastery on Mount Athos as a monk around 1803-1805. Towards 1813-1814 he settled in Svishtov, where he worked as an Eastern Orthodox priest and a teacher and began his enlightening activity by writing the Slavenobolgarskoe Detevodstvo pedagogical textbook in 1835. In this book, Bozveli spoke for secular education, for the enforcement of spoken Bulgarian in the schools and for the establishment of public Bulgarian schools.

Petko Rachov Slaveykov is one of the most famous Bulgarian writers, and one of the first, who realizes the necessity of creation of children’s literature in Bulgaria.

He was born in Tarnovo in 1827. In the village of his mother, Vishovgrad, for first time in his life Petko saw birds named nightingales (slavey in Bulgarian), which impressed him so much that he decided to change his family name to Slaveykov. Slaveykov studied consecutively in Tarnovo, Dryanovo, Tryavna and the Transfiguration Monastery, and also self-educated himself by reading books in the monastery libraries near Tarnovo. He also read  “ Slavonic – Bulgarian History” (Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya ) by Paisius of Hilendar, and later studied in Svishtov, extended his knowledge of Greek and got acquainted with the works of Western European and Serbian literature.

Slaveykov became a teacher in his home town in 1843, but was expelled for the famous satirical poem Tarnovo became famous for renowned Greek bishops, and consecutively taught in various towns.

In 1871 Petko Rachov Slaveikov lays the foundations of the Bulgarian children’s periodicals with “Pchelitza” magazine. The issue is based on the Russian children’s magazine “Pchelka” which has the features of an encyclopedia. Ten books are published within 18 months.

The first issue contains the important introductory article “To the Bulgarian children”, in which Slaveikov explains the purpose and the educational goals of the periodical. 

Readings with cognitive aspects of the Earth’s origin, animals, plants, life of outstanding people and articles with patriotic charge can be found on the pages of “Pchelitsa”.

Texts with popular scientific character, oriented to different areas of knowledge are also published there as well as various translated and Bulgarian belles letters. Slaveikov realizes that Bulgarian literature at that time is scanty and as a result of this readings, which could form a certain view of life in children, should be carefully chosen.

That is why he publishes numerous translations on the pages of “Pchelitsa”. In 1849 he makes the first translation of Robinson Crusoe. According to the genre, the texts, published in the children’s magazine, are of great variety – short stories, fables, poems, riddles, proverbs, fairy tales and religious readings.

P. R. Slaveikov is the owner of one of the richest folk collections during the National Revival, though part of it has been lost during the Liberation War.

Some of the materials he succeeded to collect are published and can be read even now. The most valuable of all is “Proverbs and typical words”. Petko Slaveikov realizes that exactly these so called short philosophic forms will be important for the formation of the children’s view of life. Therefore he includes them on the pages of his magazine since the first issue. 

Slaveikov creates plenty of fiction which is published on the pages of his periodical. In 1885 he publishes a collection of poems for children called “Tiny poems for primary students”. 

The main themes in his works are patriotism, industriousness and studiousness.

Patriotism – love to the mother land, love to parents, nature, home land, is expressed by his enthusiastic description of the beauty of the country. The most typical works are “Father Land”, “Spring”, “The Balkan”, “Morning”, “Our village”.

Patriotism is expressed with a sincere and unaffected love, gazing at the beauty of nature, with a prevailing dynamic and universal feeling of love to our mother land and its wonderful nature.

While there are strong feelings of admiration, deep sincerity and artistic plasticity in expressing patriotism, in the second theme – a stronger element of didactics, precept and education is observed.

Slaveikov is the author of many short, playful pastimes. These short poems demonstrate his talent and allow him to shift from adult to children’s poetry. Slaveikov creates numerous works with high artistic value, defines the way for the future development of children’s belles letters as an art, and not as a form of pedagogical tutorship, by developing the creative traditions.

Lyuben Katravelov was a Bulgarian writer and an important figure of the Bulgarian National Revival. He was born in Koprivshtitsa. He began his education in a church school, but in 1850 he moved to the school of Nayden Gerov in Plovdiv.

In 1857, Karavelov enrolled in the Faculty of History and Philology at the University of Moscow, where he fell under the influence of Russian revolutionary democrats, was placed under police surveylance in 1859, and took part in student riots in 1861. With a group of other Bulgarian student radicals, he published a journal and started writing poetry and short stories in Bulgarian.

When  began to publish his first newspaper Svoboda (Freedom) in Bucharest (1869–1873), Karavelov  became a friend with the poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev, who devoted a poem to him.

 Lyuben Karavelov and Hristo Botev displayed great interest towards children and youth’s literature. They are strongly convinced that true children’s works can be created only in the conditions of national freedom and independence. They support the idea that children and youth’s literature should educate the young people in patriotism and progressive knowledge for the world and society.

Luben Karavelov publishes his works in the series “Children’s library” (1871 – 1875) which aims to rouse interest for science. He is the compiler of the booklets “About the air and its influence on animals and plants” and “About heat and light or what life is”. He translates the Russian book “Short stories of Earth and sky”. Thus Karavelov becomes the founder of the original popular science literature in Bulgaria. 

An important feature of the first stage of the Bulgarian children’s literature is the fact that many of the first authors were teachers and the needs of the school generate necessity of children’s authors. Another important feature is that a big part of the writers create at least one children’s booklet although they are not profiled children’s authors.

This defines the exceptional variety among the poetic and fiction genres. The first authors who create the children’s literature during the Liberation are Vasil Popovich, Konstantin Velichkov, Tsanko Tserkovski, Ivan Vasov.

Vasil Popovich is the author of the first Bulgarian collection of poems “Child’s rebec”, published in 1879. In a special introduction he enumerates the four criteria he had in mind while writing for children. 

On the first place poems must meet the pedagogical needs and make teacher’s work easier. 

The second criterion is to correspond to the spirituality of children and children’s age. Thirdly he places the theme – it must be appropriate for the children’s age. On the fourth place is the language – it must be clear for the children. Vasil Popovich is a man of poetic flair who is able to inspire the beauty of the poetic detail. The natural lyrical attitude towards father land and nature, studiousness and Christian virtues are typical for him. 

Konstantin Velichkov was born in the town of Pazardzik in 1855. He received his education in the Galatasaray Lisesi in Istanbul where he studied from 1868 to 1874. After returning to his home town he became a teacher in geography, history, French and Bulgarian as well as chairman of the local Chitalishte (reading club). Pretty soon he became an active member of the local revolutionary committee aiming at liberating Bulgaria from Ottoman domination.

Konstantin Velichkov is one of the first children’s writers after the Liberation and plays a significant role for uprooting the direct didactics from the children’s literature. Patriotism and love to father land are main themes in his works. He treats the theme of mother’s love towards her child and the stress is on the image of the mother. 

There is tenderness and compassion in his lyrics and he is claimed to be one of the most lyrical Bulgarian poets. Konstantin Velichkov emphasizes on kindness, amiability, responsiveness. He wants to arouse instinct of kindness and humanity through images of poor children with hard destiny. He even glorifies the love of father and child. In 1894 Konstantin Velichkov publishes a small and beautifully decorated collection of poems – “Child’s rebec”. The publisher is Hristo G. Danov.

65 poems and 5 of the author’s fables are included in the children’s collection of poems. These children’s poems prove to be very useful for the education. Many of the works are republished in various periodicals, readers, collections.

The responses are positive and the poem “Thoughts of the miserables” is shown as the best work with high moral and educational charge. Most of the children’s poems have didactic contents. They aim to arouse noble feelings in the little readers: compassion towards the poor, affection to mother land, love to labour, respect towards relatives. 

Tsanko Tserkovski is best known with his activities as an agricultural leader. He is minister in the government of agrarians led by Stamboliiski. As an author he directs his attention to poems. 

Tsanko Tserkovski is one of the creators of the children’s poetry in Bulgaria. He is the author of one of its best models. First his children’s poems are published in the book “Children’s consolations” in 1905 and in 1931 the Ministry of people’s education publishes his poems under the title “Golden ears”. In this collection almost all of his children’s works are carried keeping the author’s version. 

In 1898 he writes the first Bulgarian short story for children “The little oxherds”. There are not naive, direct didactic and moralizing suggestions. He writes mainly for the child of the village and he shifts from prose to poetry. He is one of the most talented poets at that time, he writes interesting pastimes, dynamic stories with internal dialogue. On one hand he describes the heavy duties of the children from the villages and on the other hand he puts feeling of buoyancy, strength and disposition that they take part almost equally in the responsible labor of their parents. The beauty of nature is revealed through lively and colorful picture and he remains in the children’s literature with playful and plastic presence. Due to him children’s poetry moves away from direct suggestions and makes its way into the universe of the real poetics.

Ivan Vazov was born in 1850 in the town of Sopot.

After finishing primary school in Sopot, he began to work in  Kalofer, as an assistent teacher. Having done his final exams in Kalofer, the young teacher returned to Sopot to help in his father's grocery. The next year leaved for Plovdiv to study in Naiden Gerov's school. There Vazov made his first steps as a poet.

Vazov was probably heavily influenced by Hristo Botev, who was the ideological leader of the Bulgarian revolutionary movement. He started writing his famous poems with Botev and some other Bulgarian emigrants in Romania. In 1876 he published his first work, Priaporetz and Gusla , followed by "Bulgaria's Sorrows" in 1877.

Ivan Vasov declares his presence in the field of educational practice not only with his poetic books which appear in the second half of the 1870s and the first half of the 1880s but also with the popular “Bulgarian readers” (1883) with co-writer K. Velichkov and with his own collection “Poems for little children” (1883).

During that period Vasov perceives education as a part of a wide cultural program which orients towards spiritual advance of the young country’s generations. In his works the emotional and ideological world of the child is based on patriotic feeling and sense of civil duty, developing motives connected to the heroic past. The author wants to inspire the growing ups enlightener’s democracy and humanism, admiration to the virtue of working people, to convince them in the necessity of education and cultural progress. Symbols of his work are the poems “I am Bulgarian”, “Song for the squill”, “Let’s work”, etc. Vasov’s style is emotional and pictorial with elements from the people’s poetic language. He contributes to a great extend for bringing together children’s readings with literature for adults – mainly with the short novels “Alone and destitute”, “Uncles” and the novel “Under the Yoke”. Such works as “Unhappy family” by Vasil Drumev, “Mother’s child” and “Old time Bulgarians” by L. Karavelov, “The spring of the white-footed” by P. R. Slaveikov as well as other outstanding works refer to the children and youth’s literature at that time. 

During the Bulgarian national Revival there are advantageous conditions for children’s literature to appear. The realized necessity for introducing modern secular education gives the initial impetus to this process. These works of literature, especially written for children, appear as a result of the new bourgeois-democratic concept of education and the specific peculiarities of the children and youth’s age are taken into consideration. The main motives are devoted love to mother land, nature, folk art and traditions; strong aspiration for education and culture; admiration to the heroic past, aspiration for freedom and human progress.



Atanasov Vl. Ivan Vazov in the textbooks of literature. 


Gerasimova,M.A., Atanasova, D. The “Fish ABC Book” as achievement  of Petar Beron – enlightener and reformer of Bulgarian education .In:

Glossary of Bulgarian literature . Sofia. 1976

Тоpalov, К. Writers of the Bulgarian National Revival. Part1, Sofia.1988