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Russian Books for Children
November 13, 2008 11:18

The account of Russian writers’ world-known works addressed to children and youth should be started from the first third of the 19th century.

One of the first “little masterpieces” that stood the test of time was the parable fairy tale The Little Black Hen (1829) by Antony Pogorelsky (Alexey Petrovsky, 1787–1836). The message of the book remains vital till date. Are there many children in the world who would reject a chance to get extolled praises from teachers “for phenomenal knowledge” without even turning one’s finger or studying any book? This is what the main character of the fairy tale wished: always to know a task, even the one that was not given, without studying. Pogorelsky wrote The Little Black Hen for his ten-year old nephew Alesha, the future well-known Russian poet Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy.

Pyotr Yershov became famous as the author of the only one, yet quite a remarkable and original work for children, in particular, the fairy tale The Humpbacked Horse, based on a combination of folktale elements.

Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin addressed to the younger generation his fairy poem Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820) and several parable tales, such as the mischievous and derisive Tale of Tsar Saltan (1830), the lyrical and heartfelt The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights, and The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish (1830) ridiculing the claims for unlimited power, cringing submission and abysmal envy.

Mikhail Lermontov wrote only one tale for children: his Ashik Kerib (1837) is an original parable, where one of the main characters is Hadriliaz, sacred for Moslems (alias Christian St.George).

Leo Tolstoy addressed teens and the youth with his autobiographical trilogy Childhood (1852), Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1856), and also wrote quite a number of fairy tales.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov mainly wrote about rather than for children. Yet, his writings with insight into children’s nature are popular not only among adults, but among their kids as well. Such is his touching short story Children (1886), the ironical story Boys (1887) about “courageous” adventurers who venture to flee to America, the novelette The Runaway (1887) about an ill-starred village boy, and, certainly, the poignant story Kashtanka (1887).

The stories about “ravings of the boyish soul” Tyoma's Childhood (1892) and Gymnasium students (1893) by N.G. Garin-Mikhailovsky (1852–1906) turned to be true revelations for teachers and psychologists. In these books the already recognized geographer and railway engineer manifested a remarkable gift for writing.

Aleksei Mikhailovich Remizov’s fairy tales from the book Posolon (1906) are wonderful “bedtime” stories for children. Gradually the action there shifts from reality to a wonderful slumber land, with whimsical creatures, such as Kotofei Kotofeich and Kopoul Kopoulych, Alaley and Vedmedushka. Yet, the kids are not afraid of immersing in the fairy thickets, but feel happy, interested and joyful instead.

 Kid of the early 20th century enjoyed poems, fairy tales and stories by Sasha Cherny. His jaunty counting rhymes, paradoxical charades and short poems were very popular. One of his most interesting works is the story Micky the Fox Terrier's Diary (Dnevnik Foksa Mikki) presenting witty philosophical opinions and revelations of a little doggy who takes his masters in quite a sarcastic way.

The fantast and mystic Alexander Grin despite all the rubs and worries of life, such as imprisonment, exile, persecution, poverty and misunderstanding created a wonderful fairy realm that cannot be found on any map. The Shining Worlds of romanticist Grin reverberated in a multitude of young hearts. The most popular of his works are the novels Scarlet Sails (Alye Parusa) (1923), She Who Runs on the Waves (Begushaya po volnam) (1928), The Road to Nowhere (Doroga nikuda) (1928), The Golden Chain (Zolotaya tsep) (1925), and Jessie and Morgiana (1929).

Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi’s fairy tale Adventures of Buratino or The Golden Key (Zolotoi kluytchik ili Prikychenia Buratino) (1936) inspired by Carlo Collodi’s story about Pinocchio became a favourite book for many generations of little Russians. Tolstoi made the main character’s nature far more profound and various by creating a fusion of boyish aspirations, animated and glib. The fearless Buratino, who started his journey from stages of numerous puppet and children’s theatres went on triumphantly on film and TV screens. Aleksei Tolstoi wrote his books for kids in a merry, vivid and enthusiastic manner. His cycles of Mermaid’s Tales and Sunny Songs (1909), and Magpie Tales (1910) are also intended for kids and teens. Alexei Tolstoi’s story Nikita's Childhood (Detstvo Nikity) (1922) also joined the treasury of Russian literature for children.

The book of interlinking fairy parables Malachite Casket (Malakhitovaya Shkatulka) (1939) by Pavel Petrovich Bazhov charms the reader into “melodious mysteries and quiet beauty of the Russian land”. These tales of the Ural (where Bazhov worked as a miner) go deep into people’s relations and real social conflicts. The central figure of the series – the Mistress of the Copper Mountain – is a fantastic creature, embodying the creative primordial nature and its keeper at the same time. She helps only creators, such as the inborn sculptor Danila, a gifted person sensitive to “every gentle leaf and blade of grass”, who creates the miraculous Stone Flower in the depth of her realm. The Malachite Casket is one of the books the poeticism of which helps to ignite the demand for being in accord with the beautiful. The book inspired Sergei Prokofiev for his famous ballet "The Flower of Stone".

Mikhail Prishvin addressed his collections of philosophical and poetic short stories and sketches In the Land of Unfrightened Birds (1905), Springs of Berendei (1926) and Green Hubbub (1949) to young readers.

Vitaly Bianki, the author of Forest Newspaper for Every Year, and Children’s Club of Columbuses dedicated quite a number of his works to children. Among them is the story Odinets (1932), the main character of which – a mighty elk – contrives to outwit a band of experiences hunters.

Boris Zhitkov wrote only for kids. A traveler with mastery in many trades and keen on several European languages, he came to literature already as a mature personality. The summit of Zhitkov’s creative legacy is his story-encyclopedia for children What I Have Seen (1939) that was established after his death.

Daniil Kharms came to be the first Russian absurdist poet whose avant-garde verses and short stories were enthusiastically taken by children. In 1929 Daniil Kharms endowed with a unique sense of humour published the book of poetry for young readers Firstly and secondly, followed by a book under the title Game in 1930 and a collection of poems for kids and teens Million in 1931. especially popular was his series of absurdist short stories about mystifying Professor Trubochkin.

One of the most remarkable and talented writers of the 1920–1940s whose writings was totally dedicated to children and youth was Arkady Gaidar. The writer, who from the age of 15 underwent the slaughter of the civil war and then went through long and painful realization of incoherence of declared communist ideals with the Soviet reality, then created a gallery of young romantics, integral and pure at heart, with lofty aspirations, with all their virtues and imperfections. These are the touching Serezhka from Drummer’s Fate (1939), the courageous Malchish-Kibalchish, the selfless Timur and his friends from Timur and His Squad (1941), the spontaneous girl Svetlana and little Fyodor, “a fan of strawberry and cakes” from the short-story Blue Cup (1936), and others.

The satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko wrote a series of comic short stories for children Samoe glavnoe (The Most Important)(1940). “Using examples from personal experience” he gradually, delicately and with fun hinted kids at what they should be like. There are self-evident masterpieces, such as “Fir-Tree”, “One Should Not Lie”, and “Galoshes and Ice-cream” in the cycle. Those “diamonds of laughter and joy” better than any remedy can help up in difficult moments of life.

The complicated philosophic author Andrei Platonov also wrote for children. His fairy tales (collection under the title Magic Ring (1970)) published almost twenty years past his death, unlike his “adult” works, are radiant and clear, accessible for children’s understanding and captivating. The newly interpreted well-known fairy plots represent familiar characters, which turn to be unexpectedly different.

One can hardly picture childhood of several generations of Russians without books by Samuil Marshak, without his poems, verses, songs, limericks, riddles and counting rhymes, wise and mischievous plays, brilliant translations of English and Scottish ballads, epigrams and sonnets. In 1917 he was in charge of a section of children’s homes, in 1922 established the first children’s theatre in Krasnodar and in 1924 initiated the children’s journal “New Robinson”, was one of the masterminds of the popular children’s journals “Chizh” and “Yozh”, and the founder of the unique publishing house Detgiz (1924–1937). Almost any kid new by heart Marshak’s poems, such as “Detki v kletke” [Children in a Cage] (1923), “Vot Takoi Rasseyannyi” [What An Absent-Minded Guy], (1924), “Skazka o glupom myshonke” [Tale of the Silly Little Mouse], and “Vesyolaya azbuka” [Merry ABC] (1925).

 Korney Chukovsky, one of the most beloved children’s authors, was not only a Doctor of Literature, a splendid translator and a literary critic (the author of works on Nekrasov and Chekhov) but also an extraordinary connoisseur of children’ psychology and a subtle poet. He wrote his first fairy tale in verse “Krokodil” [The Crocodile] (1916) at the age of 34. Rich in witty adventures, Chukovsky’s fairy poems are taken by kids with ease and trust, because they remind of captivating games, where most important and serious things are communicated in a playful manner. These are both long poems “Moidodyr” [Washing Clean](1923), “Mukha-Tsokotukha” [Buzzing Fly] or “Chudo derevo” [Wonder Tree] that became classics of children’s poetry, and rhymed puns, such as “Putanitsa” [The Muddle] or “Telefon” [The Telephone] (1926). It was his poem Bibigon that became one of the first “cosmic odysseys”. In a nonintrusive and subtle manner Chukovsky guides his readers to the great virtue of forgiveness. He teaches to forgive not only lazy slovens, such as Fedora from “Fedorino gore” [Fedora's Grief], but even outright villains, such as Barmalei from the poem “Doctor Aibolit”. One of Korney Chukovsky’s most famous books “From 2 to 5” gives rise to parents’ reflection. His works are easily and eagerly quoted from memory by kids and adults till date.

Agniya Barto was one of the most popular children’s poets, her works published with great number of copies and included into readers.

Sergey Mikhalkov is known to kids first of all as the author of popular poems Dyadya Stepa [Uncle Styopa], A chto u vas [What do you have?], Pro mimozu [About mimosa], a version of the English folk tale The Three Pigs, and others.

Yuri Koval (1938-1995) is the author of piercing prose, an example of which is Chisty Dor, a poetic hymn to the Russian village. Yuri Koval was not only a writer, but also a splendid artist, who painted landscapes and his friends’ portraits, carved wooden sculptures and created fanciful enamels.

The orientalist Kir Bulychev (I.V. Mozheiko, 1934–2002) is the favorite sci-fi writer for millions of teenagers, for whom his Guest from the Future (1966), the curious and courageous girl Alisa Selezneva, has become consonant with Carroll’s Alisa. Kir Bulychev is not only a fiction author, but also a historian, who enthusiastically and figuratively tells young generations about the inseparability of tomorrow from the bygone times in his 7 and 37 Wonders (1983), Mysteries of the Middle Ages (2001).

In his very first book of funny short stories Tetradki pod dozhdem (Notebooks under the Rain) (1959) Victor Golyavin (1929-2001) showed himself as a master of a very brief yet profound and witty short story. The story Moi dobryi papa (My Kind Daddy) gained wide acclaim not only in this country, but in Poland and Japan as well.

The poet and writer Boris Zakhoder (1918-2000) wrote both for the littlest and almost grown-up kids. Apart from original fairy tales and poems he created funny counting rhymes, “muttering” and “panting” rhymes. Boris Zakhoder is the author of the best translations of verses from tales about Winnie-the-Pooh, Alisa from Wonderland, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins.

Radii Pogodin (1925–1992) is a writer of lyrical gift. His Dubravka from the same-name short story (1962) is a teenage girl anticipating her first love and intolerant of slightest falseness, whereas singing Verka from the story Waiting (1964) lives as if stripped off her skin.

All fairy tales, poems and tiny philosophical pieces by the writer Sergei Kozlov (born in 1957) are addressed to the youngest kids, and so, in many ways to their parents and grandparents reading for them. Hedgehog in the Fog brought world-wide fame to Sergei Kozlov, first of all due to the unique talent of the animation’s director Yuriy Norshteyn.

Konstantin Sergienko (1937–1996) is a romantic writer who managed to convey the ecstasy of first love in an emotionally contagious way. Such is his heroine – the 15-year old Masha from the story Dni pozdnei oseni (Days of Late Autumn (1983).

The first children’s story by the war hero Anatoli Rybakov (1911-1998) Kortik (The Dirk) published in 1948 at once became popular, just like his other books for kids and teens: The Bronze Bird, Adventures of Krosh", etc.

The most famous book by Konstantin Sergienko (1940-1996) was the story about outcast dogs Do svidania ovrag (Good buy, ravine). The book underwent a number of reeditions and acquired new life in animations and stage plays for children’s theatres. Another summit of his creative work is the story Samiy schastlivyi den (The Happiest Day) (1990) about sublime dramatic love of a senior pupil and a teacher of literature.

Eduard Uspenskiy (born 1937) is one of the most popular writers among modern kids. Gena the Crocodile, Matroskin the Cat, Sharik the Dog, the curious boy named Uncle Fyodor, and Pechkin the Postman are known in every Russian house. As for Cheburashka he has become a world-wide pet.

The characters of Vladislav Krapivin (1938) are, as a rule, almost established personalities. The romantic kids in his books possess unusually well-developed virtues, such as dignity, sense of justice and responsibility, open heart, kindness and honesty. In the course of Krapivin’s long and prolific creative activity more than 200 editions of his books have been published in different languages. The most famous of them are Ta storona, gde veter (The side where the wind is, Ten karavelly (Shadow of carvel), Letyashchie skazki (Flying fairy tales), Malchik so shpagoi (Boy with a sword), and Kolybelnaya dlya brata (Lullaby for the younger brother), to name but a few.



Tags: Russian Literature Children's Books    

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