After tearing myself away from The Moomins (yes Moomin-mania has struck) I have finally looked at the Baba Yaga editions I believe are worthy of mention.
Like many traditional folktale’s there are lots of editions available and I’ve found two I want to recommend.
The first is illustrated by Lydian Green.
This book is probably suited for ages 4 and above and be sure to read it with your child as some of the themes can present themselves as threatening and scary. What I like about this book is it is written in verse and therefore flows well as a tale and the format allows the children to focus on rhythm rather than anything they might deem scary.
This Russian/Slavic folktale seems to have many origins- don’t they all? Don’t get me started on Cinderella. In translation ‘baba’ means old, grandmother and this translation might pertain as to why some interpretations suggest the witch to be a symbol of wisdom and in one case; offering kind words. Yaga has many translations but most frequently we can see it to mean pain, lazy. The oxymoron of her name and indeed her character is an indicator that children might see some level of good in the witch character and not feel so threatened by her.
Of course in Lydian Green’s illustrations ‘baba yaga’ assumes the role of the nasty witch with great intensity as she roams around on her big broomstick with a disfigured face and ghastly teeth and we are reassured by the knowledge that in a traditional folktale, more often than not good reigns over evil. This is why we look to folk and fairy tales for such guiding and educational purposes.
The second edition up for review is from a favourite of many – Arthur Ransome; the collection ‘Old Peter’s Russian Tales’
There are different editions of this available, the picture I’ve used is of the hardback edition, the paperback of the same cover seems to be out of print. I believe with anthologies like this, it’s nice to have a hard copy which will last the countless bedtime readings over the years. If however you do want a paperback edition, have a search online and there are a few editions available.
Just read this synopsis from the book: This is a book written far away in Russia, for English children who play in deep lanes with wild roses above them in the high hedges, or by the small singing becks that dance down the gray fells at home. Russian fairyland is quite different. Under my windows the wavelets of the Volkhov (which has its part in one of the stories) are beating quietly in the dusk. A gold light burns on a timber raft floating down the river. Beyond the river in the blue midsummer twilight are the broad Russian plain and the distant forest. Somewhere in that forest of great trees–a forest so big that the forests of England are little woods beside it–is the hut where old Peter sits at night and tells these stories to his grandchildren. I don’t think I need to say anything. Pure fantasy and escapism at its best, with just wonderful illustrations.
Quick note that I would recommend this edition of ‘Baba Yaga’ and the other tales in it to the 9-12 age group as the themes are more adult and there is not always a ‘happily ever after’. Wonderful and learned all the same.