"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Faberge Eggs of Imperial Russia

My very favorite: The Lilies of the Valley Egg
Faberge Eggs Imperial Russian Fantasies Poster BookFaberge Eggs Imperial Russian Fantasies Poster Book by Christopher Forbes, 1980.

This book provides color posters of the eggs, including those given by Czar Alexander III (to his wife Maria), Czar Nicholas II, Alexander Ferdinandovich Kelch (to his wife Barbara Bazonov) and more. Only about ten are the eggs presented by Czar Nicholas II, but there is a black and white sketched catalogue of those eggs at the book's end. One of my favorite of the color eggs is the Orange Tree Egg, gifted from Nicholas to his mother Maria in 1911:

Orange Tree Egg
The little nightingale on top sings and dances on its perch!

Faberge's Eggs: The Extraordinary Story of the Masterpieces That Outlived an Empire Faberge's Eggs: The Extraordinary Story of the Masterpieces That Outlived an Empire by Toby Faber, 2008.

According to my reading, every Easter Czar Nicholas II presented Faberge eggs to his wife Alexandra and his mother Maria. This made 53 eggs total.

An excellent website on Faberge eggs is Mieks Faberge Eggs

More to come...

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Romanovs

I've also been learning about Anastasia, the last Grand Duchess, and her family.

I've been reading:

Anastasias's Album, The Last Tsar's Youngest Daughter Tells Her Own Story Anastasias's Album, The Last Tsar's Youngest Daughter Tells Her Own Story   by Hugh Brewster and photographer Peter Christopher. 1996.

This is a children’s book that anyone with an interest in the Romanov family and the youngest Grand Duchess will appreciate. Sixty three pages tell her story from 1901 to her presumed death in 1918. The stages of her life are explored in five chapters, giving information about Anastasia, her parents Czar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra, her sisters Olga, Tatiana, and Marie and her brother Alexei. Interesting quotes from letters, diaries and memoirs are included. Details of the family's lives combined with political woes of the times give readers a picture of a close and loving family destroyed by an unstoppable revolution. The epilogue talks about the mystery surrounding Anastasia, and Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia, but whose DNA has since proved that this was impossible.
 Each page is full of black and white photos of the imperial family and color photos of their palaces and possessions such as the children's toys, an aunt's ostrich feather fan, and a pink Faberge egg. Lovely hand decorated pages from Anastasia’s own album are featured, and the book's end papers match the pattern used in the Grand Duchess'. Also shown are drawings and sketches done by the family members. I enjoy seeing the pictures of the beautiful grand duchesses posing together in frilly dresses and pearls, striped bathing costumes or even bald but smiling after shaving their heads following an outbreak of measles. This title helps you to see the royal family as real people rather than simply victims of tragedy.

Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov (Snap) Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov (Snap) By Mary Englar, 2009. Part of Snap Books “Queens and Princesses” series.

Here Anastasia’s story is told for young readers in thirty two pages and five chapters. We are introduced to Anastasia marching in a spring parade. From there, Englar focuses on the details of her daily life as a Grand Duchess and young girl. Spectacular aspects such as her family’s seven palaces, their private train, yacht and jewels are described, as well as more common things like family time and vacations. The book is full of color and black and white photos. It is organized with a table of contents and an index and includes a glossary. Englar has also given suggestions for further reading and a link to Facthound.com, which will find age appropriate topic-related internet sites. I tried this out, and for K-5th graders, it suggested two websites and other books in the “Queens and Princesses” series.
Nicholas and Alexandra: The Family Albums Nicholas and Alexandra: The Family Albums by Prince of Greece, Michael, 1992.

At 240 pages, this is a more in-depth pictorial of the czar and his family. Like Anastasia’s Album, it is also set up by time period, covering from 1896-1903, “Marriage and Annointment as Tsar” through “Extract from ‘Original Protocol of Execution’ of the Romanov family.” The sixteen page introduction gives the reader background, and the remainder of the book provides black and white photographs with informative captions. I liked seeing the more playful photos, such as the Czar and his cousins goofily sticking out their tongues and Anastasia lying on a swing and pretending to levitate in addition to the more formal pictures. There some especially beautiful ones like a portrait from January 1903 of the Czar and Czarina wearing seventeenth-century Russian costumes, the couple with their first baby, Olga and numerous shots of the teenage Grand Duchesses wearing their elegant dresses. There is also a chapter about Rasputin’s influence, including photos of the empress and her children posing with him. The final section of the album has some haunting shots, such as Alexis playing with his spaniel, Joy, who later would accompany him to his execution.

And watching:

Anastasia Anastasia

Biography - Anastasia: Her True Story Biography - Anastasia: Her True Story

In Search Of History: Romanovs In Search Of History: Romanovs

More detail to come...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tales of Baba Yaga

By Kinuko Y. Craft, from Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave
What have we heard about the Russian hag witch Baba Yaga? Here is what I know:

  • She lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs
  • She has iron teeth
  • She flies on a mortar & pestle
  • She likes to set special tasks for visitors
Doubtless, I have lots to learn. So, beginning with picture books, here's what I will be exploring:

Bony-legs (Hello Reader Series) Bony-legs (Hello Reader Series) by Joanna Cole, Illus. by Dirk Zimmer, 1983.

It states on the copyright page that this version is based on the tale "Baba Yaga" in Russian Fairy Tales by Aleksandr Afanasev. The child Sasha sets out to borrow a needle and thread for her aunt, but chooses the wrong house to visit. Wicked Baba Yaga plans to eat Sasha, but the girl is aided in her escape by the witch's cat, dog and gate, because she showed them kindness upon her arrival at the hut that stands on chicken feet.

My library's copy of this book is Early Reader rather than Picture Book size which means small but lively illustrations. The Baba Yaga looks like an beak nosed, ugly human woman with scary pointed teeth and nails. This suits this menacing but also comical version of Baba Yaga who intentionally pinches her own nose when she flies into a rage. Pictures are colored primarily pink, orange and yellow over black and white. At the witches house, Zimmer uses patterns of eyes, mushrooms and skulls, as well as the more typical flowers for her wallpaper, tiles and curtains. I love her tub, with beast feet and fish with and without flesh marching around the rim for decoration.

Baba Yaga: A Russian Folktale Baba Yaga: A Russian Folktale retold by Eric. A. Kimmel, Megan Lloyd, Illus., 1991.

Kimmel's version of the story is based on an oral tale from the Carpathian mountains that his grandmother told when he was little. It follows the formula of the bad stepmother with an obnoxious daughter sending our heroine, her stepdaughter (here, Marina) to Baba Yaga (here, Auntie-in-the-Forest) to get a needle and thread. The giver of wise advice is a little green frog that Marina meets on the way. A surprising difference is that Marina has a horn growing out of the middle of her forehead. Although her father loves her as she is, Marina asks Baba Yaga to remove the horn. This the witch does, in exchange for the girl boiling some water inside the unusual hut. That begins the familiar cycle of Marina showing kindness to Baba Yaga's neglected household creatures, who aid in her escape. When Marina returns home and tells her father what has occurred, he throws the evil wife and her daughter out of the house. When this girl meets up with the frog, she is rude to it, ends up at the witch's home, and can you guess what happens to Marina's old horn?

The illustrations in this book are more amusing than frightening, maybe because Marina's horn and some of the witch's activities could really come off grotesque if not handled lightly.Aside from her pointy teeth, the Baba Yaga looks like a regular woman, if a hairy legged and unpleasant faced one. The title page shows her filing her teeth, surrounded by her bone fence. When she rides her mortar and pestle, they are small, perched on a broomstick.

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the BraveBaba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave by Marianna Mayer, 1994.

Grandma Chickenlegs (Picture Books)Grandma Chickenlegs (Picture Books) by Geraldine McCaughrean

In this version, our child heroine is Tatia, who loses her mother and gains a stepmother who is, you guessed it, wicked. Tatia is made to do all the housework, is fed very little and is sent to "Grandma Chickenlegs" to borrow a needle. Luckily, she has a special doll, Drooga, given to her by her dying mother. At the witch's home, she is required to weave all night, but Grandma certainly intends to eat her up. As in other tellings, she escapes with the aid of Drooga and some magical objects given to her by the hag's cat and dog in repayment for the kindness that she has shown them on her visit. She runs into her father on the road, and her stepmother and stepsisters get their comeuppence. A final happy detail is that the dog and cat come to live with Tatia, her father and Drooga.

Artist Moira Kemp uses lighthearted details that provide comic relief from the tale's darker aspects. Her Grandma Chickenlegs is a matronly figured old gal who dresses in sewing aprons by day and pink bathdrobes, curlers and dotted bloomers by night, but also happens to have green skin, a disturbingly pointed nose and chin, and wears bat wing glasses and spider earrings. An amusing picture on the title page gives us a tufted ear squirrel gazing in surprise at Grandma's iron toothed dentures biting a fallen tree branch.

Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll by Hiawyn Oram, Illus. by Ruth Brown, 1997.

Too Nice Child is pushed out of the house by Horrid Child and very Horrid Child and sent to get a gift from Baba Yaga. She is afraid to go into the forest, but is guided by a doll that her late mother had given her. The witch knows that she is coming and sets her seemingly impossible tasks that she completes with the aid of her doll. She wins the hag's admiration, the gift and gets rid of the nasty children who cast her out and stops being Too Nice and becomes Just About Right.

I love Ruth Brown's illustrations and find her art in Toad (Picture Books), A Dark, Dark Tale (Picture Puffins) and Copycat similarly satisfying. This is a tall, imposing Baba Yaga, with glowing eyes, talon nails and a malleable face. I love her warty, bejeweled  toad henchmen, and the double spread picture where they all trot toward Too Nice in the chicken footed hut is priceless. Against the scenes of darkness, we have the child in her simple dress and her reassuringly round-faced, babushka wearing doll. Brown uses a contrast between shadow and golden light, but interestingly, sometimes the shadows are thrown large on the wall by the dolly as she works to help her little friend. I also find it notable that Too Nice, Horrid and Very Horrid appear to be triplets.
I would like to own this one.

Anna and the Seven Swans by Maida Silverman, Illus. by David Small, 1984.

Based on a Baba Yaga tale retold from Russian by Natasha Frumin.

In this tale, Anna is left in charge of her little brother Ivan, but unfortunately, he is carried away by Baba Yaga’s swans. In her search for him, Anna helps an oven, an apple tree and a river of milk with plum jelly banks. When Anna finds her brother at the witch’s house, it soon becomes clear that Baba Yaga has mealtime designs on the children. With the aid of a hungry mouse and the beings that Anna helped on her journey, the siblings safely escape the witch and her familiars.

Caldecott winner David Small lends charming illustrations to the project. Led astray, toddler Ivan spots and follows a large toad that is unnoticed by the other family members. Small draws him as a brave baby, who never seems particularly disturbed by his adventures, as evidenced by his calm wave to his sister as he rides away on a giant swan. Anna is a tenacious little worker, whether carefully using her oven mitt to fetch cherry dumplings from the oven, removing overflowing milk in patterned pitchers or climbing the gnarled chicken leg of Baba Yaga’s cottage. The witch is scrawny under a baggy dress, hook nosed and ill colored. Other fine details are the blowing pastel cottage flowers, the grateful tree’s face and the dear little whiskery mouse.

Baba Yaga by Ernest Small & Blair Lent, 1966.

This version combines Baba Yaga lore from Russian Wonder Tales by Post Wheeler, 1912, Old Peter's Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome, 1916, The Russian Grandmother's Wonder Tales by Mrs. Louise (Seymour), 1906 and Siberian and Other Folktales by Charles Fillingham Coxwell, 1925.

Marusia loses the money her mother has given her to buy turnips, and has ventured into Baba Yaga's woods to hunt for wild roots. Baba Yaga is on the hunt for bad Russian children to cook in a stew. Captured and put into a pan with potatoes and onions, Marusia is able to put off being eaten by proclaiming her goodness. She is able to watch the ways of the witch for a night and a day, before Baba Yaga discovers that Marusia has lost her family’s money and then back in the pan the girl goes. While waiting, she hears the story of a hedgehog, actually an enchanted Tsarevich, who has been added to the dinner as a last minute treat. The creature/prince knows the location of something that the witch wants, enabling the children to disenchant him and escape the witch’s cooking pan.

It is notable that in this version the children don’t need to be kind or helpful to others to gain their freedom, and in fact, they annoy the witch into sending them home. Instead, many details of supernatural wonder stand out, from the arrival of morning and evening as mysterious horseman, to the magic wishing flower that brings about the birth of the hedgehog/human baby.

Lent’s art appears to be done in a wood block print style. Color is used sparingly, simply in shades from bronze to gold and red to pink. The title page is a lovely balance of Baba Yaga flying in her mortar with her little black cat, stirring the air on either side of her vessel with a broom and a pestle. Underneath and forming a matching semi circle around the title are large, showy flowers.

For online info on this or any fairy or folktale, I refer you to the fabulous SurLaLune website, in this case the Annotated Baba Yaga Page .

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Personal Project: Learning about Russia

At any time, I am usually reading three books. I have my daytime book, my audio book for daily car travel, and my bedside nonfiction, which is usually spiritually inspiring or instructive. In the past, I've enjoyed pre-sleep wisdom from The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith by Marcus Borg, The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew-- Three Women Search for Understanding by Ranya Idiby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner, Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian by Paul F. Knitter and special favorites Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna by China Galland and Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness (Shambhala Classics) by Sharon Salzberg. Without going into a laundry list of my spiritual beliefs, I'll just say that learning to be a kinder, more compassionate person is very important to me. If you'd to hear more about this, please visit my personal blog Cleery's Alley This brings me back to books.

For my recent beside spiritual reading, I chose Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Borzoi Books) by Karen Armstrong. I certainly recommend it, and admire the way that Armstrong suggests that you learn about compassion in action in history, as well about educating yourself about those different from you, now. I apologize that I don't have the book in hand at the moment, but I can tell you that one of the steps mentions that you may adopt a foreign country and learn about it and its people. You can read their stories, listen to their music, celebrate their holidays and follow their news. I thought it over, and I’m choosing Russia. For one thing, I was born in the 1960s and I'm sure that most of my view of Russia was shaped by the Cold War. Russia was the Soviet Union and its people were Communists and a threat to the USA. Russia was the spies Boris Badenov and his crony Natasha from the cartoon " Rocky and Bullwinkle," the Beatles song "Back in the USSR" and villains from James Bond movies. But also, it was fascinating, the "Land of the Midnight Sun", with folktales of Baba Yaga and her house on chicken feet, glamorous Faberge eggs, and the tragic massacre of the royal family in 1918.

Although I have learned a better balance of information since my younger years, I am still admittedly quite ignorant. So, I plan to focus on learning about Russia for six months or so. I know that I can only find out a very modest amount in that time, but it will be more than I knew before.

Where to begin? As a former children’s librarian and lover of picture books, an easy in for me is reading illustrated fairy and folktales from Russia.

Other reading:

• Russian literary classics

• Novels about Russia

• Novels by Russian authors

• GLBT experience in Russia

• General nonfiction about Russia

• Nonfiction Russia travel books

• Nonfiction history books

• Art books

• Other cultural arts: dancing, music, handicrafts

• Cookbooks

• Poetry

• Fairy and Folktale collections


• Fiction movies

• Movies in Russian

• Documentaries

• Travel


I’m basically clueless here. Without research, I’d say:

• Russian ballet

• Classical

• Russian Gypsy Music

Language learning:

• Databases: Byki and Mango

Other activities:

• Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis

• Russian restaurant

• Current news

I plan to write here about the resources that I use. I welcome any input and suggestions!