Tag Archives: Russian

My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World – 1946 Caldecott Honor Book

My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the WorldBy the time we are reading this, our forty-first Caldecott book, it has become clear to me that people of the 1940’s must have been very intrigued with other cultures and countries since so many award-winning books written during that period have these common themes.  My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, written by Becky Reyher and illustrated by Ruth Gannett, is a retelling of a Russian folktale.  In this story a little girl gets lost during a harvest-time feast.  When asked about her parents all she can say is that her mother is “the most beautiful woman in the world.”  The villagers sort through all of the gorgeous women nearby for the child’s mother, but are surprised when they find that her mother is a rather homely looking lady.  In the end, the mother tells her daughter that she is happy that her daughter sees beauty not only with her eyes, but also with her heart.

 

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – Stippling and pointillism, a painting technique in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointillism), are used throughout this book.  While I did not find these illustrations particularly beautiful, they are artistically detailed, and maybe that is the point given the storyline.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – While I did not find these illustrations particularly dazzling, they are artistically detailed, and maybe that is the point given the storyline.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”-  A peasant Russian style is evident throughout the story.

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – Each one of these literary aspects is clearly defined through the illustrations.

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – When I asked my oldest daughter if she liked this book she very nostalgically replied, “Yeah, the pictures are pretty.”

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Baboushka and the Three Kings – 1961 Caldecott Medal

 

Baboushka and The Three Kings, the 1961 Caldecott Medal recipient written by Ruth Robbins and illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov, retells a traditional Russian folktale.  In this story an old lady meets the three kings as they are headed to meet the Christ Child and invites them in to eat and sleep.  They refuse, saying that they must hurry along their journey, but invite the woman to join them in their quest.  She agrees to accompany them the next morning, but the kings, unable to wait any longer, continue on their way.

Baboushka

As the lady relaxes that evening it dawns on her how important this baby must be ,and she sets out early in the morning to find the kings.  She continued to travel in search of the Child, but, never finding Him, she continues to search each year to this day.

Although it is a simple folktale, I found deep Biblical meaning in this book.  First, the kings’ stopping at the old lady’s house almost parallels a believer’s stopping to share the Gospel in a door-to-door ministry.  Next, the urgency with which the kings searched for Jesus is an image of how Christians should persevere to find out more about Christ Jesus.  Finally, when the woman was realized later that she should go search for the Child, I was reminded of the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – As well as I liked the story, the art was what earned this book the award, and that, I felt, was inferior.  The simple pictures look as if they were done with a child’s marker.  Even though my artistic abilities are lacking, I believe that I could have drawn these pictures.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – These pictures, although not spectacular, did help to tell the story well.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”-  The style of the overall story was not what I would have expected, but the Russian-influenced style of the three kings with huge beards and pointy hats, was entertaining.

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – Each of these literary aspects was easily understood through the pictures, except that the illustrations did little to portray mood in the characters.

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My children and I enjoyed reading this book together, and I appreciated the great opportunity it provided to explain Epiphany to them and to discuss when Christmas is celebrated in other cultures.

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The Christmas Anna Angel – 1945 Caldecott Honor Book

The Christmas Anna AngelThe Christmas Anna Angel, a 1945 Caldecott Honor Book by Ruth Sawyer and illustrated by Kate Seredy, is a difficult book to understand without a good handle on the history of Russia, the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church and lots of old wives tales, which, admittedly, I was lacking upon reading this story.  In the beginning Anna and her family are visited by a scary-looking man dressed in colorful robes and carrying a staff on St. Nicholas Eve who asks what they would like for Christmas.  Apparently, this was supposed to be St. Nicholas himself on December 6th.  The next holiday that the family celebrates is St. Lucy’s Day on which the children chase the chickens around their yard in an attempt to make them lay eggs, supposedly causing them to lay every day throughout the entire year.  This holiday takes place on December 13th and is celebrated mostly in Scandinavia, but also in some parts of what I think of as Russia today.  Finally, the family celebrates Christmas Day with their modest presents and ornately decorated shaped cakes.  There is so much more to this story, but I found the storyline impossible to follow.  With a talking dog and an angel appearing to the girl with her same name, as well as with the arrival of St. Nicholas, I could not tell from the story itself what was real, imagined, or a dream.

 

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – A wide variety of pictures are in this book.  Most of them are charcoal and colorful chalk – very typical of the western Russian culture of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – The pictures do complement this story well.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”-  Depictions of St. Nicholas and other religious icons, as well as the clothing pictured make this story come to life as a Russian tale.

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – The pictures do not serve to interpret the confusing plot or theme, but the characters and setting are very clear and well-pictured.

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My children did enjoy this book, but were confused about the storyline, too.  To do fair justice to this book, I would need to spend considerable time teaching them about the history and culture suggested in the narrative and by the illustrations, so that they could truly understand what is happening.

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