Oh, Those Russians

Oh, snap!  SunBee friends, I am posting my January stories at the beginning of February!  That’s all right, because we have a bit more cold weather before us, and that is just perfect for Russian tales.  Also, I have the wonderful opportunity to share with you the kids’ reactions to these stories, as we have been telling them all month.

I focused on two Russian tales.  The first is the Firebird, also called Ivan, Firebird and Gray Wolf in the version I used.  This is appropriate because while the Firebird is a beautiful prize, the true heart of the tale is the young tsarevich Ivan’s relationship with Gray Wolf.  Gray Wolf can be dangerous if he wants to, but he chooses to help Ivan and oh, what a powerful, crafty, and wise friend to have on your side.

Gray Wolf by SunBee student

Gray Wolf by SunBee student

The children were fascinated by Gray Wolf.  I found this to be an especially popular story with boys: a youngest son, a difficult quest, and a REALLY badass helper on your side.  “This is the best story EVER,” declared one six year old.  (And he’s kind of a tough customer, I can tell you.)

Firebird in the Garden, by SunBee student

Firebird in the Garden, by SunBee student

I wanted a story with a girl protagonist after that, and remembered an image from a book I bought in college at a little Russian shop in a snowy street in Manhattan some fifteen years ago.  A young woman in a dark woods with a lighted skull… Vasalissa.

Vasalissa by Ivan Bilibin, circa 1900

Vasalissa by Ivan Bilibin, circa 1900

The story came up again recently when I was reading the incredible Women who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  A version of Vasalissa is in that book, and it really called to me.  Here is another story about a neglected young person.  Like Ivan, the pretty people in Vasalissa’s world are mean as rats, and the terrible scary being in the forest (in this case, the witch Baba Yaga) ends up being a powerful friend.  The children were fascinated by the descriptions of Baba Yaga’s house (that it stands on chicken legs and dances around is only the beginning!) We were stuck inside that day because of rain, and they were cranking out drawing after drawing of Vasalissa, the dark forest, the wise but wild witch.

Russian stories seem to me to have such a wealth of gorgeous visual images: the Firebird at night in a king’s garden, the girl with the skull in the woods, the yellow eyes of Gray Wolf, the broom of the witch made from the hair of “someone long dead.”  How delightful for these cold winter nights!  Enjoy.

PS. The following is, ahem, not for kids, but a special treat for you.  Rah rah!  Oh, those Russians…