Russian Fairytales and a book review….

Children back to nursery and school and finally I can get back to a blog I’ve been attempting to write since what feels like the first dawn in time!

It’s been a very mixed bag of emotions since the start of lock down and the last couple of days have been no exception. Thankfully my boys couldn’t wait to see their friends again and the transition back this week has been smooth this far.

Safety remains number one priority of course but one of the things I’ve missed, as I’m sure many have is the freedom of travel! We went to Germany (self catering, middle of nowhere) for a couple of weeks. I have relatives out there and while I didn’t see them all due to distancing etc it was nice that the gorgeous weather held out long enough for me to see my uncle outside. And seeing the beautiful forests always reminds me of Brother Grimm stories. Had so much fun with the boys on walks imagining the animals that were there.

Germany: Schwabian Forest Sunset – Kirsten Allen

Fairy stories and folklore have always been a huge part of my life and interests. My mother used to make up stories about a girl who got lost in the woods (probably something to do with my rubbish sense of direction 😂). The stories were complete with gnomes and (from hazy recollection) talking animals. When I studied Russian and German for my BA, one of the many happy memories was being in Moscow and researching for my dissertation. It was based on Russian fairytales. During my time in Moscow I developed a love of Russia’s beautiful folklore and tales. Passed on through generations, they flow through Russia’s veins and are the heartbeat of her rich culture. Tales of Vasilia the Beautiful, The Firebird and Baba Yaga have been captured in stunning works of art by Ivan Bilibin, in words by Alexander Afanasyev and in Alexander Pushkin’s lyrical poetry.

Kirsten Allen

Recently, I’ve read the most beautiful books by Sophie Anderson The House With Chicken Legs and The Girl Who Speaks Bear which are magical novels based on Slavic folklore. They brought back so many memories of my time at Bilibin’s house in Moscow and I could really picture the characters. I can’t wait to read her latest book The Castle of Tangled Magic!

Book Review

The Story Of Babushka – by Catherine Flores ages 9+

As I might have mentioned (once or twice 🙈) in this blog, folklores and fairytales are a bit of a passion of mine. And if you think of Russia it’s impossible not to think of Russian Dolls (Matryoshkas)…the doll in the doll in the doll. So when Catherine kindly sent me a copy of her book The Story of Babushka, of course I had to read it straight away! The central character is the outer doll, Babushka. Each chapter then follows the story of the 5 bodies with very different talents: Antonia (beauty), Loretta (wealth) , Paula (Babushka’s talents), Viola (wisdom) and Mary (heart and inner voice). In turn, their to help people in different ways. I really loved the messages of kindness and selflessness the dolls portrayed and the storyline is rich with morals. It’s a beautiful picture book which would be particularly suitable for older children for a classroom discussion. It’s very cleverly written and has a rich vocabulary. At first I was slightly taken aback with the story of the first doll Antonia (beauty). She meets someone who falls in love with her appearance and I couldn’t help thinking that this was a wrong message to send out. Then further into the story I learned an important lesson – never judge a book by its cover! I won’t give it away but it becomes clear that beauty and wealth aren’t everything.
Another aspect of the book I really liked was the way the dolls all go off on their independent adventures, yet remain a family unit. It’s truly heartwarming and poignant, particularly in today’s society. I currently have an e-copy of this beautiful story but will definitely be ordering the book for my shelf. When things get hectic, I’ll read it and be reminded of what really matters in life.

Q&A with Catherine Flores

Q1: How did your interest in Russian Folklore start?

A1: As a child I was familiar with Russian nesting dolls and was attracted by taking it apart and then putting it back together again, something that I feel Is quite a strong metaphor for life. Back then I didn’t really know, what the Russian nesting doll stood for. Fast forward many years, when I had the chance to explore Russian culture through books. One in particular that stood out to me was the 10-books-series “Anastasia” written by the Russian author Wladimir Megre. Reading these books also inspired me to set the location of Babushka in a beautiful enchanted forest.

Q2: Which of the dolls would you most like to be identified with?

A2: I would choose Mary, because I believe that love has the strength not only to unite but to do anything! It’s a powerful source that lies within each and every-one of us!

Q3: In the book, Babushka learns about photographs helping to relive a memory. If you could choose one memory from your childhood to relive, what would it be and why?

A3: One of the most beautiful memories of my childhood is, when our father took me and my sisters out into the forest for Sunday walks. He showed us how beautiful Mother Nature is and taught us how to enjoy the simple things in life, such as rustling through the fallen leafs in autumn, or how to “tweet” like birds and whilst listening to them answer. Sometimes we went to the brook in the forest and collected rocks of different sizes, which we took home and painted brightly, just to bring them back the following Sunday and hide them in the bushes and see if we could find other painted rocks, that we had hidden in the past. I only now realise, how similar the scenery sounds to where Babushka lives.

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