Our Favourite Books: Russian Books for Small Children

Some of them are more than twenty years old, and some are new. At first, I preferred those which pages were white and fresh, carefully chosen and delivered from overseas, but as Budster brought me my old books, without bright illustrations, but loved now by the second generation, I started looking at them with nostalgic affection.

I hope that one day Budster can see Russia, but he will never see Russia that I grew up in, as it has already changed. A small part of that place is hidden within the boxes of old books I brought with me when I came to Canada. I am glad he has had his first look inside.

Would you like to have a look as well? Some of the books have gorgeous pictures, while others might be interesting as a cultural illustration.

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Here is a gem of our collection. A Ballad about a Small Tugboat by Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky was one of the most notable Russian poets of the 20th century, having received among other awards, a Nobel Prize. However, he lived and worked in the United States for half of his life, after being banished from the Soviet Union for political reasons. A Ballad about a Small Tugboat is an early poem, one of the few he wrote for children. It tells the lyrical story of a hard-working tugboat, who secretly dreams of far-away oceans – but accepts that someone needs to do his work and does not hope for realization of his dream.

Budster likes to look at the gorgeous paintings, made by the artist Igor Oleynikov, and find seagulls, turtles and parrots, from the tugboat’s dreams. One of Budster’s favourite pages is the one describing the tugboat’s crew: captain, boatswain, cook, etc. I cannot say how much he understands from the text, but I love reading this poem to him and looking at the pictures. They have special meaning for me, because Saint Petersburg was my city once, as well as this little tugboat’s.

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Another favourite is a book of poems by Yunna Morits, a famous children’s poet in Russian. Many of my childhood songs turned out to be based on her poems, so that on opening her book I felt more like singing than reading. I am no singer, but Budster does not know that and smiles happily to my songs. That’s how I won his heart with this book.

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Here are some others.

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar is not a Russian book, at least it wasn’t until I added a translation to Budster’s copy. I have done the same with Gruffalo, Listen, Listen and several others. With some, Budster liked the English version more, but with The Very Hungry Catterpillar he was quite happy with my translation. So we read about “ochen’ golodnaya gusenitsa”.

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It is possible that it will amount to nothing, and Budster will not speak Russian very well. We are happy spending time as a family, and when we do, we speak English. Still, I am glad that we have these – and many more – Russian books to spark his interest. As a child, I remember having a couple of English books in our house that I could not read, but felt passionately curious about.

Do you have books in languages you cannot read? Do you keep them for the sake of memory, illustrations or some other reason?

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