Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Folktales Every Russian Child Knows...

Little Red Riding Hood was my first love. 
I felt that if I could have married Little Red Riding Hood, 
I should have known perfect bliss. 
- Charles Dickens

Did you have any favorite fairy or folk tales growing up?  I vividly remember "Rumpelstiltskin", "Little Red Riding Hood", and "Beauty and the Beast".  As a continuation of my last post, today I'll be sharing some Russian tales for children that are also illustrated with photos of paintings from Russian lacquer boxes.
Remember to leave a comment here on this post - or any others I do through May 30 - if you'd like to be entered in my MAY GIVEAWAYS (you can enter as many times as you'd like, so comment away...) 

In this Russian fairy tale book, you'll find peasants, turnips, bears, Jack Frost, Princesses, eagles, Cockerels, Wolves, swans, and more...

"The Turnip"
(I've seen numerous versions of this tale - it's one of the more popular Russian folktales; a story that builds on itself as more and more characters get in on the action of helping out.  It is a tiny mouse that shows up at the end of the tugging line of people and animals who finally helps pull the turnip out of the ground.) 

"Then Grandpa called Grandma.
Grandma held onto Grandpa;
Grandpa held tight to the turnip top.
They pulled and pulled till they had to stop.
But the turnip stayed in the ground."
"The Peasant and the Bear"
(This is the shortest tale in the book, and is basically the anecdote for why there has "always been hostility between bear and man".)
" The turnips grew large and in the autumn the peasant came with his cart to dig them up.
The bear came out of the forest:
'Well, man, the time has come to divide the turnips.  Give me my share.'
'All right, dear bear. let's share:  the tops for you, and the roots for me.'
The peasant gave the bear all the leafy tops,
put the turnips on his cart and took them to town to sell."
(This story was my least favorite, because the poor girl ends up freezing to death.  At least her mean step mother learns her lesson.  I included it because I love this illustration...but it's not a sweet St. Nicholas who's looking down on the girl...)
"The girl sat beneath the fir and shivered.  Soon she was shaking from head to foot.
Suddenly she hear Morozko -- which is what the Russians call Jack Frost -- nearby,
making his way through the firs, leaping from tree to tree snapping and cracking.
He sprang onto the top of the fir beneath which the girl was sitting and called down to her."
"The Frog Princess"
(There are quite a few cultural variants of this tale, including the Brothers Grimm German version, "Der Frosch Konig".  The story varies from country to country about the main character being a "Frog Prince", to a "Frog Princess", to a "Toad Bridegroom"...in this Russian telling, the Frog Princess turns out to be Vasilisa the Wise - who appears in the next folktale I'll mention as well.  I also have to suggest that you try to find this version of The Frog Princess, sumptuously illustrated by Russian artists Gennady Spirin.)
"She tripped and turned, turned and tripped in such a way that everyone was astonished.
Then she swung her left hand and there was a lake;
she swung her right and there were white swans swimming on the lake..."

"The King of the Sea and Vasilisa the Wise"
(In this tale, Vasilisa is the daughter of the King of the Sea. She helps a tsarevich with some very difficult tasks, so that he can go back home to his parents.)
But Vasilisa the Wise and Ivan Tsarevich were already far away.
They drove their swift-footed steeds on without pausing to rest"

The female name Vasilisa is of Greek origin and means "Queen". It is the feminine form of Vasily, the Russian or Greek form of the name Basil.  Its use was inspired by a third-century Christian child martyr, Vasilisa, and several other early saints who are venerated by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. It was the name of several early princesses. 

Today the name is also associated with a fairy tale princess because of its frequent use in Russian folk tales. The princess Vasilisa Prekrasnaya (Vasilisa the Beautiful) or Vasilisa the Wise is a stock character in Russian fairy tales, including The Frog Prince and Vasilissa the Beautiful. 

Her character often rises in status from a peasant girl to the wife of a prince or is a princess who marries the hero after helping him to accomplish difficult tasks. Unlike other fairy tale heroines who wait to be rescued, Vasilisa often accomplishes a series of tasks that help her defeat the villain of the story.

You can find today's book, used, on Amazon - if you go here. 
There are many more wonderful tales in this book - most can be read online here, at Project Gutenberg, or on this Russian Craft website.