Doctor Esperanto and the Language of Hope is a children’s picture book about the genesis of Esperanto by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Zosia Dzierżawska. The story focuses on how Leyzer Zamenhof started to invent a common language as a young adult. It discusses some of the problems he encountered while inventing a language, and how he pursued his dream of a common language against his father’s wishes. The story culminates with universal comprehension of Zamenhof’s Esperanto speech at the first Universala Kongreso.
The charming illustrations provide an additional layer of explanation to the text. For example, on the page about how Zamenhof tried to use words that most people would be familiar with, nine similar words for “cat,” paired with nine different cats, show similarities between European languages. The muted palette and charcoal outlines gave characters a warm feel, while the comicbook simplicity of their expressions made those expressions easy to understand.
This book is a beautiful English introduction to the ideas behind Esperanto. It’s common to describe Esperanto in abstract, idealistic language; the way the book frames the problem in the context of Zamenhof’s life makes it instantly relatable in a way that language philosophy is not. The narrative didn’t immediately grab my four-year-old’s attention, but children over seven will appreciate this story of an inventive child.
The cursive lettering in the illustrations may be difficult for some children to read, and the book does not provide a pronunciation guide, so non-Esperantist readers will not know how to pronounce some words — for example in the illustration about fiŝoj. Esperantists will be right at home, however, and the beautiful book would make a great gift to your local library or a child in your life.
Rockliff, Mara (author), Dzierżawska, Zosia (illustrator). Doctor Esperanto and the Language of Hope. Candlewick Press, 2019. ISBN 9780763689155.