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.

Imagination 3: Choices and a Book Review

One thing I’ve noticed about toddlers, specifically my 3 year old. They love control. Or another word for it might be independence. Both my children have always been fiercely independent, almost to a fault. My youngest particularly. Almost as soon as he could walk, he wanted to get in and out of the car by himself. After what felt like hours of watching him struggle to get in, I’d give him a little push up. To which he’d respond with ferile anger, get out of the car, push the door shut and start all over again! The same with getting dressed – so much as my finger on his trousers to help him get a leg in, off everything would come with loud “NO! I do it myself!” and we would have to start all over again. My husband and I have only got ourselves to blame – we can be very stubborn and rarely ask or accept help. With my children, I’m learning to sit on my hands and just say “if you need help, let me know.” And actually if they really need it, they will ask.

But how does this relate to imagination? I’m no educational expert, but I’ve seen how leaving them to their own devices and not interfering (unless it’s dangerous or we’re in a big hurry to be somewhere) can give them the opportunity to think of new ways of problem solving. Letting them figure it out and make their own choices as much as possible, gives them the tools to think in different ways. Whether that’s using a bicycle pump to etch a new design on the wall (yes that happened after I took crayons and keys of him 🙈) or working out how to put their shoes on.

Giving children choices can be helpful in encouraging both creative and critical thinking, as this article mentions: How You Can Help Children Solve Problems

Sometimes I even think you can hear their little brains ticking over new solutions.

Another way of encouraging children to think creatively and independently is by allowing them to choose their own storylines in books. I used to love the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series and for my young children they really enjoy The Storypath by Kate Baker and Madalena Matoso.

Pictures are laid out along paths and there are questions to prompt the children, but they choose which way the story goes and how they can describe the characters.

They are all gorgeous books but the one that in future years will be classed as one of my boys’ “childhood favourites”, is You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt which I really enjoyed reviewing. I loved looking through the pictures and thinking about what my preferences would be!

Thanks for reading my blog and hope you enjoy the review!

Book Review

You Choose – by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt

Published by: Puffin Books

Do you remember staring for hours at an Argos catalogue, imagining what you’d choose for your home. Then imagining what your house would look like…would you live in a castle or a lighthouse? Would you live by the sea or in a forest? Well You Choose does exactly but is way more fun and has so many more options!

Before my eldest started reception last year there was an evening for the parents to meet the teachers, get to know other parents etc.

The headteacher gave us all advice which was music to my ears. The most important thing we could do for our children over the summer was to read to them. And read lots. Maths and learning alphabets etc, she went on to say, would be taught in reception. Reading to our children would teach them about empathy and choices and the softer skills. She told us the books didn’t even need to have many words in it. You Choose was on the top of her list of books she recommended. Apparently it had been her children’s favourite too when they were younger. I’m so glad we got it. It’s helped my 3yo’s vocabulary, he loved the independence of choosing and it has encouraged both my children’s imagination as we discuss characters that they have chosen. It also gives us something to chat together about as we talk about all our choices!

I read that there are also different games you can play with the book – only choosing things beginning with a certain letter, or perhaps objects with particular colours. This book provides hours of fun and I very much recommend not only reading it at bedtime and when you can have more time together for longer chats. It’s easy to get so caught up in conversations you don’t realise how quickly the time goes! Absolute children’s classic of a book. We love it!

And now, we turn the tables on the author Pippa Goodhart and illustrator Nick Sharratt to find out a few of their choices!

Q&A

Q1. You can take 3 animals on a hot air balloon ride with you. Who do you choose?

 Pippa: Um. Not a giraffe because its head would be up in the balloon. An elephant would be so heavy we might not take off. A mouse might get frightened and run up my trousers. Not my cat, Dotsy, because she’d get scared and dig her claws in. Not my chickens because they’d get in a flap. I’d take my dog, Winnie, who would be a good companion. And I’d take two herons in case the balloon collapsed. I’d hold their legs while they flap big wings, and we’d glide down to land safely. 

Nick: a parrot a tortoise and a kitten

Q2. You’re invited to a fancy dress party. The theme is superheroes. Who would you choose to go as?

Pippa: The super-hero that comes to my mind straight away just now is Annie, who is one of my daughters. She is a doctor working long difficult days in a hospital, caring for very ill patients, all whilst she’s six months pregnant. So I’d put on a pair of scrubs and face mask, and borrow a stethoscope. 

Nick: Snoozerman – as I already have an almost superhuman capacity for dozing off.

 

Q3. You get to spend lockdown in the building of your choice from the following:

  1. a) light house
  2. b) space station
  3. c) castle

And why did you choose it?

Pippa: That’s a difficult choice! I like my home best, but I’ll choose c) castle. Because a space station or a lighthouse would feel so restricted, with no garden to go out into. A castle would be too big to feel cosy, and might be cold and strange and possibly scary, but at least it would have lots of room outside where I could walk and think. 

Nick: A castle – the four-poster bed would be a great place for an afternoon nap.

Q4: What’s your next project?

Pippa: Well, funnily enough, one of the next books to get published is a new You Choose book! You Choose Fairy Tales. Nick Sharratt has done absolutely wonderful pictures for it, as you can imagine. 

Nick: I have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline. So watch this space!