I decided on Russian folktales, with a major focus on the witch, Baba Yaga. When I was a child, we had a beautifully illustrated storybook (in Spanish) that portrayed Baba Yaga in a couple of its stories. We were so mesmerized by this character, that to this date, when our family wants to describe somebody evil, we joke about that person being “Baba Yaga.” At the time, due to the fact that the stories often talk about snow and winter, I had the faint idea that the stories were of Northern European origin, such as Danish. I did not encounter this character again until much later: my daughter was younger and learning to read, she chose an “early reader” at the library called Bony Legs. When we read it I realized of the similarities with the Baba Yaga of my childhood story, since her house had the famous chicken legs. When I started investigating in that same library the 398 tales, I chanced upon several stories that have Baba Yaga in their title or characters. Both my daughter and I enjoyed reading them and discovered the Russian tradition of beautiful illustrations in Children’s Art. Even Baba Yaga seems beautiful sometimes! Ellen J Peralta

Russian History and Culture:

Russia has undegone through several phases, very distinct from one other and most of the changes from one to the next have been abrupt.

The origin of the East Slavs, who adopted CHristianity from the Byzantine Empire around 988. Kievan Rus, as the firs state was known, crumbled under the Mongol invasions around 1200. After that, the Russian Empire was born around the 13th century, with Moscow as the capital. The empire expanded, but after somo trouble and the Tsars' son dying without successor, the firs Romanov was elected in 1613. This new state curtailed serfs' rights to the point of absolutism, thus creating peasents revolts. During World War I, the empire was further stressed, the Bolshevik revolution took power from the Romanovs, establishing the Soviet Union. The patriarchal domination of the family structure was challenged, girls were finally free to join the workforce and were encouraged to get an education. Then, as a means to break the hold that the Orthodox church had in Russia for more than a thousand years; the government encouraged atheism. In the early 90's the Russian economy again suffered a colapse that was quickly followed by a crumbling of the regime. Markets opened privatization followed.

Language: about 100 languages are spoken in Russia, Russian is the official language, other languages include Tatar, Ukranian and Slavic.

Folklore: Russian folklore takes its roots in the pagan beliefs of ancient Slavs.

Culture: Russians have some of the most sophisticated and developed cultures, that include a strong, recognizable stule of literature, with world-known writers, music, dance, architecture, painting of Icons, classical or Avant Garde.

Costume: The different peoples that live in this enormous land wear different costumes. Some of the clothes may include Kaftan for men ans long, printed skirts for women.

Food: Black bread is popular in Russia, as well as other breads, fish, mushrooms, berries, ceeals and beets.


Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave

As told by: Meyer, Mariana, Illustrated by Craft, K.Y. Morrow Junior Books, New York. ISBN 0-688-08500-8, $16.95.

This beautiful picture book relates one of the many stories of Baba Yaga the witch, and Vasilisa. The author offers no explanation about the source, but other retellings support it. Baba Yaga lives in the forest, in her house with chicken legs and her favorite food is human flesh. Vasilisa is a young orfan girl left to the care of her evil stepmother and her stepsisters. Vasilisa did chores and every menial task, her only comfort was a doll sewn by her mother that she always kept close to her. One night, their candle goes out and they are all unable to light a single light; so the stepmother sends Vasilisa to ask Baba Yaga for a light. Reluctantly, Vasilisa goes, but she is soon soothed by her doll, who tells her what to do. In the forest, she sees a white stallion and rider, then red stallion and rider and at last, when night fell again a black horse and rider. She soon approaches Baba Yaga’s fence of bones; the witch discovers her and tells her to come inside. When Vasilisa asks for the light, Baba Yaga tells her that she must work for her first. Baba Yaga tells her to cook and clean, each time a harder job than before, but each night as Vasilisa seems to be ready to fall, exhausted, her doll takes over the job. In the morning, everything is as Baba Yaga has commanded. She cooks a feast, separates the wheat from the chaff, washes, and cleans. Baba Yaga is surprised, but gives Vasilisa a harder job still: to find a lost needle in one of the haystacks and remove the dust from the poppy seeds. The doll helps again and Baba Yaga is finally satisfied with Vasilisa and lets her go, giving her the needed light, also she tells her that the riders are the daybreak, the red sun and the night knights. Then Vasilisa confesses how she was able to do the work. Baba Yaga does not like the answer, since she abhors anything to do with love. Baba Yaga gives Vasilisa the light in a skull and tells her not to forget to give it to her step mother. Vasilisa starts back to her house and she arrives at midnight. To her surprise, her family has been in a magical night ever since Vasilisa left; when Vasilisa gives them the light, the skull comes to life and engulfs them in fire, where they die. Vasilisa moves to town, finds a kind woman to live with and begins threading cloth, she does such a fine job that soon the tsar’s men purchase some of her cloth for the tsar. The tsar falls in love at first sight and marries Vasilisa, who always kept her doll close.
Baba Yaga
Arnold, Katya. BABA YAGA.
A Russian Folktale retold and illustrated by Katya Arnold. North-South Books, New York. $12.50 1993.
Arnold cites his source as Afanas'ev, a 19th century Russian folktale collector. This story tells how Baba Yaga, the witch of Russian fables was hoodwinked by a child. The story starts with a childless old couple, who want a child so badly that they make a child out of an old tree trunk. One morning, they heard a cry and discover it was a real baby, they named him Tishka. As Tishka grows, they warn him of the evil witch who eats young children. Baba Yaga impersonates the voice and manner of the mother to call Tishka; she puts him in a sack and takes him home to his daughter. Baba Yaga tells her daughter to cook the child and leaves, but Tishka pretends that he doesn’t know how to position his body to go into the oven, and asks the daughter to show him. The witch’s daughter kneels on the oven tray and Tishka shoves the tray in the oven and closes the door. Tishka hides outside Baba Yaga’s house, which has chicken legs, and waits for Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga gets back home and starts eating her own daughter! Tishka calls from his hiding place, telling Baba Yaga what had happened, when Baba Yaga is about to get him, a flock of geese flies over, and Tishka asks for their help to escape Baba Yaga’s wrath. He makes it back home and is never bothered by Baba Yaga again. The illustartions have sharp lines, with a heavy use of red and black; they convey the messagethat this is a nightmarish story, but the result is not pleasing.
Lewis, Patrick J. (Retold by) THE FROG PRINCESS. Paintings by Gennady Spirin. 1994. 32 p. Dial Books, New York. $15.99. ( 08003716230) A Russian folktale in which the tsar has 3 sons, he sets contests to find them each a wife; and the youngest has to marry a frog. The tsar sets tasks such as weaving or cooking for his daughters in law. But the frog is a magic frog, which turns into a beautiful princess at night and wins all the tasks set before her. On the night that the tsar is to finally meet the frog wife, she shows up as a princes, named Vasilisa, and everyone is amazed when s magically appears a flock of geese that dance to the music. Prince Ivan is very proud of her, so he runs home, finds the frog's skin and burns it, wishing that his wife will remain human forever. When Vasilisa shows up, she tells him that there is a magic spell on her and she disappears. Prince Ivan leaves to find the palace where his wife was taken. On his travels, an old man gives him a ball of yarn to guide him to his wife; he spares a falcon and a fish he wanted to hunt and keeps on his travel. Finally, he arrives at a hut with chicken feet, where Baba Yaga lives. Baba Yaga gives him a riddle to rescue Vasilisa from the Blue Kingdom. The riddle seems unsolvable, but soon, the animals he had spared come to his aid, solving the riddle. Finally he is reunited with Vasilisa. The editors detail in the jacket that Vasilisa is famed in the Russia folklore, specifically for her embroidering. Mr. Spirin is a Russian illustrator who has published books both in Russia and America. The illustrations are bordered with embroidery and the garb is traditional of Medieval Russia. They are very exquisite in the traditional Russian fashion.
Shepard, Aaron. (Retold by) THE SEA KING'S DAUGHTER. A Russian legend. Illustrated by Gennady Spirin.1997. 32 p. Atheneum, New York. $17.00 (0689807597)
This book tells the story of Sadko, a musician in love with the River Volga. One day a shape rose rom the water, it was the king of the sea, who asks him to come to his kingdom underwater to play his music at a party. He pays him with a golden fish. Next day, Sadko takes a ship into the Baltic sea, where he jumps over the railing. He and his music are well received at the undersea palace, where he meets the daughters of the Sea King. Sadko is told by the king to choose a wife among them, and he falls in love with Volkhova, like the river Volga. He is told that once he embraces her, he may never return to the surface. Sadko decides to return to Novogrod, where he lives his life and has a family, but he always continued to play his music by the river, where he could see his beloved every once in a while. The beautiful illustrations in the traditional Russian fashion were made by a Russian illustrator. The details are intricate, the faces are exquisitely drawn, the buildings and clothes look very traditional. The editors have included in the jacket that the story of the seafaring merchant-musician Sadko is one of the most beloved in Russian Lore.
Baba Yaga & the Wise Doll
Oram, Hiawyn. (Retold by) BABA YAGA AND THE WISE DOLL. Illustrated b Ruth Brown. 1997. 28 p. Dutton Children's Books, New York. $15.99. (0525459472).
Baba Yaga was a terrifying witch, who looked into her many-ways mirror and saw: Too Nice Child, Horrid Child and Very Horrid Child. Horrid and Very Horrid push Too Nice out and tell her to go into the forest, find Baba Yaga and bring back one of her toads in a jeweled jacket and diamond collar. Too Nice goes into the forest with her doll, who gives her advise and help. Soon, Baba Yaga arrives in her House with chicken legs and the doll tells Too Nice to knock on the door. Baba Yaga makes Too Nice wash and cook, but Too Nice is helped by her doll, finally, Baba Yaga asks Too Nice to tell er what she came for, but Too Nice, instead of asking for the toad, tells her she came for a good scare. Baba Yaga tells her that is the right answer and gives her a toad with a pearl encrusted jacket, a diamond necklace and a long emerald leash. She brings the toad home, who eats Horrid and Too Horrid; Too Nice becomes Just About Right. This book's illustrations are very nice, but not traditionally Russian. The editors only offer the explanation that this is a retelling of a traditional Russian folktale. Both author and illustator are British and Vasilisa has been renamed "Too Nice".
Sheman, Josefa. VASILISA THE WISE.
Sherman, Josefa. (Retold by) VASILISA THE WISE. A tale of medieval Russia.Illustrated by Daniel San Souci. 1998. Harcourt. Orlando, Florida. $14.95. ( 0152932402)
The storyteller's note claims that in the tenth century, there was a Prince Vladimir in Kiev.
The story tells how, one day Prince Vladimir was having a party, but one of his princes was not looking happy, when asked why, he responds that he misses his wife, Vassilisa, who is the wisest person. The king gets mad at him and throws him from the court and puts him into prison. When Vasilisa finds of his fate, she dresses as a tartar warrior and starts towards the court, sending Prince Vladimir a request of 20 years of tribute for the horde. The prince is scared, but when he receives Vassilisa as a tartar ambassador, he is surprised when "Vasilli" asks for the prince's niece hand in marriage. The niece suspects that Vasilli is a woman, so they set tasks for her to prove it: first some wrestling, then archery, and last chess; where the prince gambles his city, for the winner. Vasilisa wins, but asks only for the niece. Then, she requests music for the party, when the music is not to her liking, the prince has to call Staver, Vasilsa's husband, to come and play at the party. Vasilisa tricks the prince into giving her Staver the musician, in exchange for sparing the city from the Tartar hordes. After the Prince agrees, Vasilisa shows herself as a woman. The prince agrees that Vasilisa is, indeed, wise, as Satver had proclaimed. Everything was forgiven and Staver and Vasilisa drink, eat and are joyful. The pictures show the characters in traditional garb, the buildings ar decorated in the Russian style, but the style of the illustrations is not the traditional Russian style.
Riordan, James. TALES FROM CENTAL RUSSIA. Russian tales, Book 1.1976. 285 p. Kestrel Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. Out of Stock.$12.50 ISBN 0670691542. Russian Tales, Book 1. Illustrated by KrystynaTurska.
====This is a book of tales; it contains a list of contents at the beginning. One of the first stories is that of Vasilisa and Baba Yaga, where it describes Baba Yaga’s house with chicken feet. Baba Yaga traps Vasilisa, but she is so kind with the animals that Baba Yaga has set to entrap her, that the animals help her escape. Other stories include Ivan the Rich and Ivan the Poor; The Frog Princess, The Tails, The Firebird, etc. This is a classic for anyone interested in Russian folklore. The book is cited in the more current "Snow Maiden". James Riordan has chosen all the tales from A'fansiev eight volumes of Russian tales. A classic collection published between 1855 and 1867. The illustrations are sparse, black and white and somewhat cartoonish. I was unable to find editorial reviews of this book, although it is cited as a source in "The Snow Maiden"====

Marshall, Bonnie. (Translated and retold by) THE SNOW MAIDEN AND OTHER RUSIAN FOLKTALES. A Russian folktale translaed and retold by Bonnie C. Marshall. 2004. 153 p. Libraries Unlimited, Westport,CT. $40.00 ISBN (156308998)

This scholarly book starts with an introduction on the origin of the Slav people, Russian history, Tsarist Russia, the revolution, the Soviet era, the Cold war and the fall of the Soviet Union. It details the history of Russian folktales and how its transmission was affected by the political events of the last 2 centuries. The author is a scholar who has traveled to Russia and has translated texts and participated in exchange programs in Moscow State University. She was aided in her project by professors of folklore and Russian literature. After the fall of Communism, she was finally able to do fieldwork in Russia, which had been forbidden to visitors before. She has taught English in the University in Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). She is currently a professor of Russian Studies at Johnson C. Smith University in New Hampshire. She divided the folktales in categories: Animal tales, fairy tales, tales of everyday life, tales of spirits and the supernatural. This last category is what in Russian is called bylichki, and they constitute a unique genre, its study and propagation was discouraged during the Soviet era. This type of folktales are called memorates in America and deal with events that happened to the narrator or a close contact. They deal with encounters with supernatural being such as werewolves, mermaids, goblins, etc. This is not an illustrated book, but a collection of folktales as heard by the researcher. This book includes the tale "The Tails". I was unable to find any reviews for this book.
Other works consulted:
Mayhew, James. STORIES FROM RUSSIA. New York, Kingfisher Books. 1993.
TWU Databases: Wilson Web - Book Review Digest Plus
Cole, Joanna. BONY LEGS. New York : Four Winds Press. 1983.
    1. Rochman, Hazel. "Baba Yaga (Book Review)." Booklist 90 (1993): 347. Article Citation. Web. 2 July 2010.
    2. Weisman, Kay. "The frog princess (Book Review)." Booklist 91 (1994): 140. Article Citation. Web. 2 July 2010.
    3. Rochman, Hazel. "Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave (Book Review)." Booklist 90 (1994): 1828. Article Citation. Web. 2 July 2010.
    4. Rochman, Hazel. "Baba Yaga & the wise doll (Book Review)." Booklist 94.9-10 (1998): 818. Article Citation. Web. 2 July 2010.
    5. Zvirin, Stephanie. "The sea king's daughter (Book Review)." Booklist 94 (1997): 556. Article Citation. Web. 2 July 2010.
    6. Anton, Denise A.. "Vassilisa the wise (Book Review)." School Library Journal 35 (1988): 181. Article Citation. Web. 2 July 2010.