Last week, we began our Ukrainian series with a personal reflection from our executive assistant, Hayley. Having recently visited orphans in Ukraine, Hayley gave us insight into their situation, which is only made more tenuous by the current political upheaval. And most importantly, she gave us a detailed look at how we (and our kids!) can pray for them during this difficult time.
This week, Hayley continues her look at ways we can help our kids develop compassion and understanding in our kids towards Ukrainians. This week, she focuses on Ukrainian culture and folktales, with a few novels and spy stories for the older kids thrown in. I’d recommend pairing these with some basic facts about Ukraine’s history for your kids. You can get that at Wikipedia’s Ukraine page, or you could try this video (which I haven’t watched) recently recommended by Tim Challies.
In our next installment, we’ll focus more on the “liberty” aspect of our series–i.e. the political and historical side of things. Til then, let us know in the comments how you liked these books or if you’ve found any Ukraine or Cold War books you think we should include!
The Birds’ Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story by Eric A. Kimmel
Excellent and overtly Christian, this beautifully illustrated book tells the legend behind pysanky, the beautifully decorated Easter eggs of Ukraine.
The Castle of the Cats by Eric A. Kimmel
This lesser known fairytale originally comes from Latvia but has been retold in a Ukrainian setting with beautiful Ukrainian themed illustrations. A youngest son sets off to seek his fortune and encounters a castle full of very interesting felines.
When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest
Gorgeously illustrated story of one Jewish immigrant girl’s journey from Eastern Europe to America; this will help readers understand the emmigration of many eastern Europeans to America in the 19th century.
Babushka Baba Yaga by Patricia Polacco
In Ukraine and Russia, stories are told of a horrible witch who lives in the forest and is known as “Babushka Baba Yaga.” In this picture book, Patricia Polacco retells the legend in a gentler way. With Polacco’s Ukrainian and Russian heritage, many of her picture books have Eastern European themes. I love her old ladies; I saw many similar babushkas in Ukraine!
Favorite Fairytales Told in Russia by Virginia Haviland
This collection of Russian fairytales is sure to be appreciated by a budding reader and serves as an excellent introduction to Russian folklore.
Bony-Legs by Joanna Cole
If at all possible, this is a great book to get! Written as an easy reader, it is the story of one little girl’s escape from Bony-Legs –another name for Babushka Baba Yaga!
The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
Hungarian author Kate Seredy weaves a beautiful tale of life in Hungary before and during WWI. With gorgeous illustrations, these two Newbery Honor books are a wonderful way introduce middle grade readers to Eastern European culture. (Seredy also won the Newbery Medal for The White Stag, a retelling of the rise of Atilla the Hun. This book, while recommended by many, contains darker elements of pagan religion that parents may wish to preview.)
The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig
Esther Hautzig, a Polish Jew transported with her family to the steppes of Siberia, writes a fascinating coming-of-age memoir. While intended for young adults, this would be a great book to read and discuss with a middle-grade reader. Hautzig displays and, from my recollection, recognizes the Stockholm Syndrome that came as she adjusted to life in Siberia –to the point she almost did not want to leave and return to Poland.
This resignation and acceptance of oppression is what the older generation of Ukrainians experienced under Soviet Rule. Today, many remember it not for the oppression it entailed, but for the apparent prosperity and efficiency of the Soviets: at least under communism the roads were better and everyone had a job!
Tomorrow Will Be Better by Zdena Kapral
This memoir from Czechoslovakia is one of the best autobiographies I have ever read, and engaging to the point of being a page-turner. Especially interesting is the fact that it tells what life was like in Eastern Europe before World War II, enjoying relative independence, during WWII under German occupation, and then during the communist/Russian take-over. This book is a fascinating portrayal of one family’s struggle to survive. While there is no overt mention of faith, this story is filled with hope and not bitterness despite the gravity of the times.
The Blind Spy by Alex Dryden
World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky recommends this book: “third in a finely written series centered on Anna Resnikov, a KGB colonel who defects to America. Dryden combines insights into contemporary Ukrainian political intrigues with deft portrayals of those who tire of lies.”
I have read and really enjoyed the first book in Dyrden’s series, and I would recommend the series to both adults and teenagers who are mature enough to handle a secular adult thriller.
The Grace Effect by Larry Taunton
I haven’t read this one, so please use your judgement. But it was recommended to us by Melinda, one of our readers last week (and someone Emily has great respect for in “real” life). She says this nonfiction presents a “historical and present-day view of Ukraine” and gives “a detailed account of the Taunton’s family adoption of Sasha, who was an Ukrainian orphan.” Thanks, Melinda!
There are many more books that could be listed here, especially in regard to Russia, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War. Because of this, we will be doing another booklist focused specifically on Ukrainian and Russian history!