Unconquered, independent, and worth visiting: How ‘unconventional authors’ portray the country in unique publishing formats


You see an error in the text - select the fragment and press Ctrl + Enter

Telling the world about Ukraine in multiple languages since 2017, “TravelBook.Ukraine” (“Knyga-Mandrivka”) is a major multimedia project created by “Green Penguin” Creative Agency (renamed Books&Cartoons in 2022). 

“TravelBook. Ukraine” consists of short texts and illustrations, complemented by a spectacular animated series on key events and figures of Ukrainian history, science, and art. We talked with its creative director and showrunner about the bold idea of portraying an entire country, her approach to the book’s audience, the project’s domestic and international role, and the different stages of its development.


Iryna Taranenko is a co-founder of “Green Penguin and “Books&Cartoons.” As a child, Taranenko dreamed about writing books, but she pursued a career in advertising instead. In 2016, while serving as Green Penguin’s CEO, she heard that Moscow had erected a monument to a key figure of Ukrainian medieval history — Grand Prince of Kyiv, Volodymyr.


“I was so outraged back then,” she told us. “Why in the hell Putin erects monuments to our kniaz! They always steal our history, and we have to stop it, at least at some personal level.”


This realization sparked an idea to create high-quality, designed content about Ukraine, which was lacking in both internal and external markets at that time. The agency decided to release a book in a gift format intended to aid readers in discovering more about Ukraine.


At that time, “Green Penguin” had been actively executing projects in Kazakhstan, and it was there that they decided to experiment with this format. This is how “Travel Book. Kazakhstanwas released — featuring 700 facts covering historical figures, culture, traditions, and nature. Created for children, it tells about the country in a format that is easy to comprehend and access.


“Travel Book. Ukraine”: Discovering the style


Experience gained from implementing the project “Travel Book. Kazakhstan” gave the publishing team an insight that a book about their own country should delve into history even more deeply and seek a wider audience. A large team of copywriters, fact-checkers, historians, designers, and other specialists dedicated a year and a half to crafting the book.

Iryna says that during the work process, they had to experiment with various copywriting formats.


At one moment, the book looked more like a tourist guide,” she said. “We realized that wasn’t the right approach. In the process, we were faced with a question of ‘balancing the objects’: each double page has around 40 facts on history, politics, geography, sport, culture, and more.”


One of the special features of this book is its approach to language delivery. Authors wanted a lively tone rather than an encyclopedic one. “We avoid writing ‘they were born in … ‘ and ‘the width of something is … ‘ Iryna explains. “In this format, we do not attempt to tell everything, but rather to ignite an interest. For example, here is the scientist who deciphered the Mayan writing system, and here is the woman from Kharkiv who won an Oscar for costume design.”


Iryna believes the project also fosters self-discovery within Ukrainian society. Following the book’s release, Ukrainian media frequently feature stories about its heroes.


The book tells a story in an “edutainment” format, in which short texts and colorful, often witty illustrations “hook” readers and encourage them to explore more information on their own.


“When we were first creating the book, I already envisioned it as the foundation for a cross-sectional project that can include animated cartoons, an app, stickers, and so on,” recalls Iryna. In fact, this is exactly what happened: In 2018, shortly after the publishing house “Knygolove” had released the 2017 book, the agency team produced a pilot episode of an animated series based on real events described in the book. The Ukrainian Cultural Foundation supported this initiative. The animation series “Travel Book” (“Knyha-mandrivka”) currently features seven seasons.


The series was voiced by Ukrainian celebrities: Through their characters, they narrate stories about Kyiv architect Vladyslav Gorodetskyi, the legendary fight of strongman Ivan Piddubnyi, the city of Kharkiv, and more.

Famous Ukrainian TV hostess Mariia Yefrosinina with “Travel Book. Ukraine”


Now, the series continues to fulfill its educational and promotional role. It is included in the Ukrainian nationwide online school curriculum (“Vseukrainska Shkola Online” provides remote elementary and secondary school education in Ukraine). Additionally, it is broadcast on TV and streamed on online platforms. The series already has more than 13 million views on YouTube.


The animated series “Travel Book” (“Knyha-mandrivka”) now features an English voiceover. Some episodes have subtitles in English, German, and Japanese.



RELATED: ‘Old Khata Book’: Looking for a place called home 


Because of its scope and depth, its unconventional delivery, and the participation of celebrities in both authorship and voiceover, the project is popular among people of all ages.


Our audience varies from a student to a president,” Iryna notes.Initially, we thought that content would appeal only to children — especially those whose parents prefer to filter videos and don’t want to show their children Russian content. Then, we began receiving feedback that the entire family enjoyed the book. Also, many teachers use our content during classes or assign watching the cartoon as homework.”


The project serves a significant diplomatic function. “The book, in a way, became a form of content marketing for Ukraine as the President began gifting it to foreign officials, and ministers of foreign affairs, ministers of culture, and diplomats carried it along on their foreign trips,”  Iryna adds. The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture helped to create an English version, the Embassy of Germany in Ukraine produced a German one, and the Embassy of Ukraine in Belgium initiated a French translation.

Former Mayor of Reykjavik Dagur B. Eggertsson with a copy of “TravelBook. Ukraine”


Today, “TravelBook. Ukraineis available in Ukrainian, English, German, and French with over 30 thousand copies sold. The project has received many awards, including an Effie Award in 2021, a Best Book Design 2018 Laureateship, an Illustration and Illustrator Reward on Behance, a Media Project of the Year award, and a Ukrainian Creative Award in 2021.

The New Brand: Animation Publishing Team Books&Cartoons


In 2022, when due to the full-scale Russian invasion, the need to talk about Ukraine domestically and internationally increased dramatically, Iryna and her team launched the brand “Books&Cartoons:


“Despite the hard times, we realized that there is no better time than now: Everyone tried to contribute, and we knew well how to tell short stories about Ukraine.”




This led to the launch of the projects “Travel Book. Independent” (“Knyga Mandrivka. Nezalezhni”) and “Travel Book. Unconquered” (“Knyga Mandrivka. Nezkoreni“). Both were published by the publishing house “Knygolove” and are currently available in Ukrainian and English. “Travel Book. Independent” features 640 facts about Ukraine from 1991 to 2022, presented chronologically. In 2022, the book received a “Book of the Year” (“Knyga Roku”) award in the “Literature for middle grades students” category.


Another project, “Travel Book. Unconquered,” contains more than 500 facts on the Russian war on Ukraine. This project features a book, an animated series, and a merchandise collection showcasing the resistance of Ukrainians during the war. It achieved 289% of its funding goal on Kickstarter, earning a “Project We Love” badge, and was supported by people from 30 countries.


Berlin designer and stylist Frank Wilde with “The Big Book of Bravery”



“Books&Cartoons” calls itself an animation publishing team because it produces animated cartoons and books. However, Iryna emphasizes that despite their right to publish books and receive ISBN, the word “publishing team” is a mere formality:


“We create only the type of content that interests us and do not publish other authors. We can cooperate with other publishing houses because they already have administrative resources and workflows. We are content creators and somewhat unconventional ‘authors.’ We usually start with a product, meaning that we first develop a book idea and then piece together the puzzle. We handle everything ‘turn-key,’ relying on our own capabilities.”


“Little Travel Book. Cities” Series


In addition to large-format books, in 2024 “Books&Cartoons,” in collaboration with Ukrainian “The Old Lion Publishing House,launched a new series of children’s mini-books and new episodes of animated series. It started from books on Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv, and Kyiv and will continue to expand to include not only regional centers but smaller towns as well. 


RELATED: Ukrainian book avant-garde from Delaunay to Ekster


The books are structured alphabetically, with each letter representing a local aspect. For instance, in “Little Travel Book. Kharkiv,” the spread featuring the letter “Б” describes a legendary writers’ house, “Budynok Slovo,” “Д” highlights “Derzhprom,” a modernist office building completed in 1928 that is the visual symbol of the city, “И” explains a local term “rakly(scammer), and “З” stands for “zalizobeton” (armored concrete material made in Kharkiv). It is symbolic that famous citizens of the city join the project; for example, writer Serhiy Zhadan is a co-author of a book on Kharkiv, and Oleh Mykhailiuta (Fahot) from a famous Ukrainian hip-hop group Tanok na Maidani Kongo voiced the corresponding episode of animated series.



“We understand that if we depict Kharkiv, for example, we must resonate with the people of Kharkiv, so we immerse ourselves in studying the city, its history, and its linguistic nuances,”
says Iryna. “In an animated cartoon about Kharkiv, there is the phrase ‘trempel vam v gorlianku’ (literal translation: ‘get a coat hanger in your throat’). This phrase is mentioned in nearly every second comment on YouTube; we were even asked to create a separate visual about it. This means that we truly struck a chord and captured the essence of the city’s soul. I hope we’ve also achieved the same with other cities.”


The Future “Travels” of the Project

While “Books&Cartoons” primarily focuses on projects related to Ukraine, it is not exclusively an agency for the “Travel Book”  project. The Department of Strategic Communication of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has engaged the publishing house to work on a 40-minute children’s animated movie about the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Additionally, they are working on books about Ukrainian culture and the Olympic Games.

Iryna has been a sports fan since childhood. She had always dreamed of creating a book about the Olympic Games. She says that watching football with her dad as a kid when Ukraine had just become independent instilled in her an understanding of her country’s autonomy. For Iryna, a book on international sports is also a way to convey messages about Ukraine to the world:


“This product is important because I noticed at book fairs that publishers liked our storytelling format, yet Ukraine is gradually fading from the people’s attention abroad. This is why in the book, we will highlight which athletes who represented the Soviet Union were actually Ukrainians.”



Iryna firmly believes that the world will get to know Ukraine better if Ukrainians create more content that resonates beyond their borders:


I have a dream about Ukrainian publishers not only purchasing but also exporting their own book formats abroad.”



Translation: Anastasiia Blazhko

Copy editing: Joy Tataryn, Terra Friedman King


The publication is a part of the “Chytomo Picks: Classics and New Books from Ukraine” project. The materials have been prepared with the assistance of the Ukrainian Book Institute at the expense of the state budget. The author’s opinion may not coincide with the official position of the Ukrainian Book Institute.