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)

Friday, May 31, 2013


After entering the names of all you awesome commenters into the trusty "List Randomizer" (found at random.org), I'm ready to announce the three winners of my May Giveaways in celebration of my third year blogging here at "Good Books For Young Souls".  

But first I want to say, "thank you", blog followers old and new - hopefully you enjoyed learning about Russia's amazing history and culture of art, literature, and faith from my posts this month.  I always love and appreciate your kind comments.  I wish I could send each of you a gift!
Here are the three names picked totally at random:

"TawniM" - won the Matryoshka Luggage Tag.

"Elizabeth in Alaska" - is the winner of the book - The Littlest Matryoshka, (1999) by Corinne Demas Bliss, illustrations by Kathryn Brown. (ages 3-7) Click HERE to read all about the making of this book on Corinne's website. Go to The Littlest Matryoshka website to see activities and games related to the book!

"Angie" - gets the Matryoshka Measuring Spoons - perfect for bakers young and old!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Saints of Russia

Can the Church "make" a saint? The answer is no. Only God can do that. 
We glorify those whom God Himself has glorified, seeing in their lives true love 
for God and their neighbors. The Church merely recognizes that such a person 
has cooperated with God’s grace to the extent that his or her holiness is beyond doubt.  -Fr. Joseph Frawley [source]

Saints are an important part of Russian Orthodox culture!  As a follow up to my last post on the Romanov family -- yes, Tsar Nicholas II and his family are canonized as saints in the Orthodox Church.
For those of you not familiar with how it is that certain devout men, women, and children come to be called "saints" by the Orthodox Church today, here is a quick explanation...

Orthodox theologians classify the saints in six categories [source]:
  • The Apostles, who were the first ones to spread the message of the Incarnation of the Word of God and of salvation through Christ. 
  • The Prophets, because they predicted and prophesied the coming of the Messiah. 
  • The Martyrs, for sacrificing their lives and fearlessly confessing Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. 
  • The Fathers and Hierarchs of the Church, who excelled in explaining and in defending, by word and deed, the Christian faith. 
  • The Monastics, who lived in the desert and dedicated themselves to spiritual exercise, reaching, as far as possible, perfection in Christ. 
  • The Just, those who lived in the world, leading exemplary lives as clergy or laity with their families, becoming examples for imitation in society.
Tsar Nicholas and his family were glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in 1981 for martyrdom, but this was a hotly debated decision [source].
Tsar Nicholas, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, Alexi. [source]
Both within and outside of Russia there were those who claimed that Nicholas' reign was weak and prone to extravagance and indifference to the plight of Russia's needy. On the other hand, there was widespread popular devotion to Tsar Nicholas among those who claimed that he was called of God to lead his people at a difficult time in history and did so to the best of his abilities. The religious devotion and piety of the family is well documented and not seriously contested by anyone.

On August 14, 2000, after some 8 years of study, the council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church (inside Russia) voted unanimously to recognize Nicholas, Alexandra and their five children as saints. They were not named as martyrs, since their deaths did not result immediately from their Christian faith; instead, they were canonized as "passion bearers" (see the last category above).
The holy Passion Bearers.
Icon painted by the sisters of the New Tikhvin Monastery. [source]  
According to a statement by the Moscow synod, they were glorified as saints for the following reasons:
In the last Orthodox Russian monarch and members of his family we see people who sincerely strove to incarnate in their lives the commands of the Gospel. In the suffering borne by the Royal Family in prison with humility, patience, and meekness, and in their martyrs deaths in Yekaterinburg in the night of 17 July 1918 was revealed the light of the faith of Christ that conquers evil. [source]

There is a beautiful children's book about Orthodox saints that I'd like to highlight today -- A Child's Paradise of Saints, by Nun Nectaria McLess, with illustrations by Elen Stefarova.  It's available here.

Product description:
A treasury of saints for the young. Presented in a warm, informal style, suitable for reading aloud, here are stories of the struggles and triumphs of holy Fathers and Mothers from throughout the world. 15 exquisite watercolors by a Russian iconographer bring these beloved saints to life. Each saint story is 3-6 pages in length, taking 5-15 minutes to read aloud.  Ages 5 and up. (You can also hear an audio review here, from AFR).

There are several Russian saints in this book, including beloved St. Herman, a Russian monk and missionary who brought Orthodox Christianity to Alaska and the Aleuts!
St. Herman of Alaska, from
A Child's Paradise of Saints

Another Russian saint in the book is St. Xenia of St. Petersburg. Basically, the story of Xenia is that as a young woman she married an officer, who died suddenly while at a party.  Xenia mourned not only his sudden unexpected death, but the fact that her husband had not been able to go to Confession or receive Holy Communion before he died.  She was dreadfully worried about his soul.

Young Xenia disappeared from society for a long time.  When she returned, she had given away everything she owned (including her house) and was wearing her husband's old army uniform.  She also told everyone to call her by his name, "Andrei".

She went all over the city doing good deeds (many in secret) for others in her husband's name - hoping that her deeds and prayers would honor him in the eyes of God.
St. Xenia, from A Child's Paradise of Saints

Many people thought she was a bit crazy!  Xenia had become very holy and had many spiritual gifts, which were mostly unnoticed because people were so distracted by her strange dress and the fact that she had given away all her money and belongings, basically living a life of homelessness.

There is one story that St. Xenia would spend even the coldest winter nights in the Smolensky Cemetery. There was a church being built there, and she would secretly carry heavy bricks in the middle of the night, to stack them where they were needed the next day.

The workers wondered how the bricks got there, so one night they secretly kept watch.  Xenia finally appeared, climbing up and down the walls of the half-finished church with her loads of bricks!

My husband and I visited Smolensky Cemetery during our visit to St. Petersburg, and we saw the church that St. Xenia helped build...
I took this photo in the Smolensky Cemetery as I looked toward the church that
- according to tradition -  St. Xenia helped build.   
The azure colored church is at one end of the cemetery, and a pale green chapel built over St. Xenia's burial site and dedicated to her memory is at the other end.
St. Xenia's chapel
As we entered the Smolensky Cemetery, we felt as if we'd walked right into an icon of St. Xenia!
During the times of communism in Russia the faithful were not allowed access to the little chapel that was built over the site of Xenia's burial; so visitors wanting to come and pray would lean their heads against the outside of the chapel, or against the Soviet-built fence that was eventually put around the chapel.
Since then, the tradition has been preserved. We saw several worshippers going around the outside of the chapel praying, leaning their heads against or kissing the outside walls before entering the small sanctuary.

The church is restored beautifully inside and out - and many Orthodox Christians make pilgrimage there, to pray, light a candle, and ask St. Xenia for her intercessions. We were blessed to be among them.
I hope you've enjoyed coming along for some "armchair travel" with me to St. Petersburg, Russia!

Remember, today - May 30 - is your final chance to enter my MAY GIVEAWAYS. The Giveaways end at midnight tonight.

How to enter: Comments left HERE on this post (or on any of my "Russia blogs" posted between May 12 and May 30, 2013) will enter you for a chance to win one of the giveaways! Enter as many times as you like.

Winners announced: I'll pick three people who will each win one of my three "Matryoshka Madness"giveaways (three because I'm celebrating three years of blogging!)  I'll announce the winners tomorrow, May 31, 2013.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

St. Petersburg: The Romanovs

 "Wedding of Nicholas II and Grand Princess Alexandra Fyodorovna"
(1895 Tuxen, Laurits) 
source - Hermitage Museum
I have always had a major fascination with Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Romanov - Russia's last Imperial family.  So one place I knew I had to visit during our trip to St. Petersburg was the Tsarkoe Selo (Tsar's Village) estates, in Pushkin, which include Great Palace - or "Catherine Palace" - and Alexander Palace, home of Nicholas and Alexandra and their children.

You can read my past post about them here, where you will also find several books about the Romanovs - for teens and children - that I highly recommend.  Also check out Tskarko Selo in 1910, an online book (commemorating the 200th anniversary of the founding of the town) with everything you'd want to know about the history of this town and the Romanovs who lived there.

No Fairy Tale Ending:
The Romanov Dynasty had ruled in Russia for just over 300 years, when this royal family was put under house arrest at the Alexander Palace during the Bolshevik Revolution before being taken to Yekaterinburg, where they were brutally executed in 1918.
From Left back: Princesses Maria, Tatiana, Olga,
Czarina Alexandra, Nicholas II, Princess Anastasia,
Tsarevitch Alexei (1914). 
Great Palace:  
Our visit  to Tsarko Selo started at "Catherine Palace", originally built by Catherine I, Peter the Great's (second) wife.  I won't include too many photos, because I'd like to focus on the Alexander Palace.  Great Palace was very ostentatious - reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles, in France.  You can read about Catherine Palace and see beautiful photos, here.
My husband and I outside the Great Palace.
From where we started in the Great Hall upstairs, we went through doorways after doorway, each gold gilded and leading into beautifully appointed rooms.
This is one we had heard a lot about:  The Amber Room 

Downstairs was an area dedicated to the Romanovs.  By the way, the Romanov Dynasty (1613-1917) just had its 400th Anniversary this year!! Go here to see the Romanov Dynasty Family Tree.  In the portrait gallery I even found a case with the ex-libris bookplates of Nicholas II and Alexandra!
Side-by-side portraits of Nicholas and Alexandra.
Alexandra's Ex Libris
Tsar Nicholas' Ex Libris
Just outside the grounds of Catherine Palace, we saw this church and went inside (I've linked to information about it in the caption, if you're interested).
The Church of Our Lady of the Sign

I hope you'll visit the incredible website, Alexander Palace Time Machine - this website is a virtual tour of the palace and has tons of old photos, resources, and links about the Romanovs.  You can also visit this lovely blog, "The Love That Ended An Empire", to see archived photos of the last Imperial family.

Alexander Palace:
I held my breath as we went through the gate and walked up the driveway to Alexander Palace...

The inside was not at all what I expected...much of the interior has not been restored to its original beauty.  It was actually quite a shock after seeing the Catherine Palace. Most of the valuables from Alexander Palace have not been returned since before WWII, when the Russians had to pack up as much as they could before the Germans invaded and ransacked the palace (you can read a short history here). 

Imperial Bedroom:
Seeing this room made me cry.  It's what's left of the Imperial Bedroom.  The royal family had many icons. From what I could understand from our interpreter, the museum guide said that many of the original icons that had been in this room (gifts to the Imperial family from monasteries and churches) were packed up and sent away, but during Soviet times, when the palace was turned into a museum, curators moved other icons belonging to the family here from the children's rooms, and more icons showed up at the Palace from all over St. Petersburg...from palaces such as the Winter Palace, where Romanov rooms had been destroyed.

Alexandra's Mauve Bedroom
The above photo shows a "mock up" of Alexandra's famous "Mauve Boudoir". You can see at the back of the room, how they have mounted a blown up photograph of the original room to help you imagine how they looked when Nicholas and Alexandra lived at the Alexander Palace.  Some of the furnishings are being slowly returned from places they had been sent or sold off to.  Some are gone forever, looted or destroyed by the Nazis during WWII.

Children's blackboard from their school room.
Aleksey's Bedroom:
Tsarevitch Alexy's  icon cabinet
 Close-up of another beautiful portrait of Alexandra:
The palace collection of uniforms was amazing 
and in wonderful condition.

Feodorovsky Cathedral:
I could see this church across the grounds as we left.  Dedicated in 1912, the Cathedral was a part of the complex of the Alexander Palace.  It was built by Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra and many famous Russian architects and artists took part in its planning and decoration. We did not go inside, but it is in great disrepair.

You can see more photo tours of how the Alexander Palace looks today - here.

Remember to leave a comment, to be entered in my May Giveaways.  My next post will be "St. Petersburg: Saints of Russia" (and guess who it will include...)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Maytryoshka Giveaways

Don't forget to leave a comment on any of my Good Books blogs posts between now and May 30th to enter my May Giveaways! Winners chosen on May 31, 2013.
Source: Bake Greek

I hope you've enjoyed reading my posts about lacquer art and Russian folk tales for children. Go here for details about the three things I'm giving away at the end of the month.
Isn't this Hello Kitty Matryoshka cookie adorable???
More Russia posts coming up...

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.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Russian Folktale Art Fit for a Tsar!

The work of Palekh artists must be counted among the true wonders of Russian art. When you look at their creations on black lacquer backgrounds each of them seems to glisten and sparkle with gold, silver and all the colors of the rainbow... 
-Abram Raskin, art scholar and Merited Art Worker of Russia.

I'd love your feedback and comments about these two gorgeous folk tale books (not technically "fairy tale", if you remember from my last post) I brought home from my trip to St. Petersburg. (Remember, a comment will enter you into my May Giveaways!)

Both books are illustrated with artwork from painted Russian lacquer boxes. By the way - I see that you can get used copies of the Russian Fairy Tales book very inexpensively, here from Amazon - for sure a lot cheaper than what you'd pay for one of the lacquer boxes!  This post is full of my own photos from Pushkin's Fairy Tales...

Russian lacquer art developed from the 17th-19th Century Russian icon painting tradition - which sadly came to an end with the collapse of Imperial Russia during the Russian Revolution of 1917 (although thankfully this tradition is being revived by young artists of the 21st Century) . The icon painters, who previously had been employed by supplying not only churches but people's homes with icons, needed a way to make a living.

Since many of the icons had been painted on cypress-wood panels or a papier-mâché base, the artists  began specializing in the craft of making papier-mâché decorative boxes and panels that were lacquered and then hand painted, often with scenes from folk tales.

There are four centers (schools) which practice the art of this Russian craft - both of my fairy tale books show the work of artists from the Palekh School, using the technique of painting in egg-based tempera overlaid with intricate gold leaf highlighting to decorate their miniature lacquer boxes.

 (Artwork by Alexei Orleansky a painter of the Palekh school, from Russian Fairy tales)

In my next few posts I'll be sharing different Russian folktales with you.  Today, I'll be sharing the artwork and stories from Pushkin's Fairy Tales.  Pushkin's tales are quite long, and written in verse (he was more influenced by French fairy tales then Russian folk tales, which were always written in prose).  I bought the book for my son-in-law, because he's especially interested in Russia and its literature.

From "Ruslan and Ludmilla", an epic tale in verse by Pushkin,
published in 1820.
From "The Golden Cockerel"
"The Tale of the Golden Cockerel" was the last folktale in verse by Pushkin, published in 1835.  It's based on a couple of chapters from the short story "Legend of the Arabian Astrologer" from the Tales of Alhambra by Washington Irving!

The only tale of Pushkin's that might interest younger children is "The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Champions" (champions could also be translated as "knights").  Does the number seven make you think of any other fairy tale - SNOWWHITE AND THE SEVEN...?

Here is the Princess, in all her glory (and holding the "Pippin" apple), with the seven brother knights -  "champions...ruddy, bushy-whiskered men" (they're not dwarfs in this version, and they live in a mansion in the forest, as opposed to a cottage).

The Princess and her seven champions

She runs away from her step-mother, the Queen, and finds the knights' forest mansion.  The seven brothers love her, but she tells them she cannot marry any of them because "another still is dearest. I must his forever be; Elisey, the prince, is he."

This prince eventually comes looking for her - asking the Sun and Moon to help him find his soon-to-be-wife.  Little does her fiance know that she has been approached by an old woman and given an apple that was poisoned.  It is the Wind who finally tells him of her glass coffin and where to find it... 

From the coffin she is creeping; Ah, for joy they both are weeping!  
Now he lifts the maid away Out of darkness into day 
And the two are homeward faring, Happy, friendly talk are sharing.
Quickly round the tidings ring, 'Saved - the daughter of the king!'

One other Pushkin tale in this book that I'll mention is "Tale of Tsar Sultan".  It's been published as a picture book on its own with illustrations by one of my favorite present-day Russian artists,  Gennady Spirin.  You can see his version here.

I hope you're enjoying all this truly remarkable Russian-lacquer-box-fairy-tale-artwork!  More coming in my next post...and remember to leave a comment, if you want to be entered in my May Giveaways (it's Matryoshka Madness!)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Alexander Pushkin and Russian Folklore

When my husband and I were in St. Petersburg, Russia, we made a side trip to the town of Pushkin (named for the poet), which surrounds the Tsarskoe Selo ("Tsar's Village") estates.  I'll be sharing photos of the estates soon in another post; today I'd like to talk a little bit about Pushkin and Russian folklore.
Monument of Pushkin, founded on the 26th of May 1899, on the 100th anniversary of the poet's birth. 
Pushkin was educated at the Lyceum of Tsarskoe Selo.
Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) is generally recognized as Russia's greatest poet. He was born into an aristocratic family with a long and distinguished lineage, and attended an exclusive school for the nobility in Tsarskoe Selo, outside the capital city, St. Petersburg.

Pushkin was also a novelist, but part of his literary heritage is his "fairy tales", which were loosely based on Russian folklore (and on some French fairy tales - because of this his tales were criticized, called "artificial flowers" - source).
Pushkin's Fairy Tales,  with Palekh Painting
I honestly didn't know a lot about Russian folklore or Pushkin's tales, so I did some research and found out two interesting facts...

FACT # 1 - Pushkin's tales have always been favorite subject matter for  the painting school of Palekh, a famous old center of icon-painting and lacquer miniature boxes.  (More about this fact in my next post!)

FACT #2:  There are no fairies in Russian folklore, so they should really be referred to "folktales" - they have also been called "wondertales". (Thanks to Masha Gedilaghine Holl's website, which was my source for much of the information you'll find below!)

What is, then, a folktale? It's a story. First and foremost. In Russian, it is called SKAZKA. The word is from the same root as the verb "to say" -- skazat. Therefore it, quite simply, "that which is told" -- a tale, or story. But by implication, it is fiction, not news, something someone came up with: Entertainment. 

Up until the close of the eighteenth century most everyone from tsar to peasant delighted in the folktale.  After that time, the tales were more a part of the culture of the lower class.  Also of note is that the early Russian folk tales were traditionally told only after dark - when young children were asleep - they were typically not subject matter for children (too scary).

1 - Magical tales with a female hero.
2 - Magical tales with a male hero.
3 - Animal tales (with animals as main characters, with or without the participation of human characters).
4 - Tales about everyday life.

1, 2 - The first two categories are related. Both male and female heroes will embark on some kind of a quest. It may be a trip to the forest to gather firewood, mushrooms, or berries; or it may be a journey into a far-away kingdom. Similar characters appear in both types of tales, and they usually end with a marriage, and maybe fortune as well.
--The magical tales in which the hero is female (usually a girl) center around her ability to perform certain tasks. These tasks are usually practical and test the heroin's household skills: cleaning, cooking, spinning, weaving, and of course her knowledge of the proper behavior. These tales also test her ethics: she must not lie, although telling less than the truth is allowed; she must not steal, but taking something from an evil character, after she was allowed to do so by someone from that household, is also allowed.
--Magical tales with a male hero follow a slightly different pattern. For one thing, the male hero ALWAYS leaves his home on a QUEST (the female hero may live all her adventures in her own back yard). The male hero is not expected to perform tasks, at least not by himself: he encounters magical helpers that will do his work for him, or else fix the mistakes he makes when he attempts to perform the task.

3 - The third category of tales is not magical per se, unless you count the animals' ability to speak in "people's voices" (human speech). These tales may involve the participation of humans, or not, but usually the presence of humans somewhere is acknowledged or taken for granted.
--Animal tales are not cute stories about nice furry creatures. Animal characters are strictly typecast:
"The Fox and the Wolf," watercolor and charcoal by Yevgeny Rachev [source]
  • Wolves are greedy rather stupid, and male (the Russian word for wolf is "volk," a masculine noun). 
  • Foxes are sly, calculating, and tricksters. They are also female (the Russian word for fox is "lisa," a feminine noun). 
  • Cats are opportunistic and lazy. They are male (the Russian word for cat is "kot," a masculine noun). 
  • Bears are big and lumbering (naturally), rather clumsy, and not very bright. They are male (the Russian word for bear is "medved'," a masculine noun). The Russian word that is the equivalent of "teddy bear," "misha," is also the diminutive for the name Mikhail, which is the standard "first name" of folk-tale bears. 
  • Hares are quick and cowardly, and male ("hare," in Russian, is "zaiats," a masculine noun). 
  • The goat is cunning, and female (Russian -- "koza," a feminine noun). 
  • The rooster is cocky and boastful, and male (Russian -- "petukh," a masculine noun).
4 - The fourth category of tales about everyday life includes tales about soldiers returning home who meet (and defeat) Death, or who encounter a witch, or some other kind of magical being, and who gain fortune in the end (or maybe just a bowl of soup, as in "Axe Soup," the Russian variant of "Stone Soup.")

Be sure and read this informative essay: Baba Yaga's Domain, by Helen Pilinovsky, about one of Old Russia's most famous (and complex) folklore characters.