January 1, 2013

Russian Classic (pre-1960) Children's Literature

Classic Children’s Literature Challenge is already here, and I've decided to participate also by committing a list of less known Russian Classic Children's literature. I've chosen the books I personally like, which are also translated into English (the corresponding titles are taken from Wikipedia). The books are organized chronologically. I hope this list will encourage someone to explore these wonderful books!

XIX Century

Krylov, Ivan Andreyevich: fables
He takes a lot from Esop and Lafonten, of course, but his fables are somewhat different and more funny than theirs. So it's a lighter read and perfect fore children!

Pogorelsky, AntonyBlack Hen, or Living Underground (1829)
An early fantasy story which it not like anything I've ever read. I remember how long it troubled my imagination after I read it as a child, so I plan to re-read it sometime.

Pushkin, Alexander SergeyevichThe Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda (1830), The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1831), The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish (1833), The Tale of the Dead Princess (1833), The Tale of the Golden Cockerel (1834)
Who doesn't know these? =) If you are interested in children's or Russian literature (or both), it's a must!

Yershov, Pyotr PavlovichThe Little Humpbacked Horse (1834)
A traditional fairy-tale in literary adaptation. A good introduction to the rich Russian fairy-tales heritage.

Tolstoy, Lev NikolayevichChildhood (1852)
It's not a light read at all, as the childhood he describes is full of sorrows and difficulties. But it's amazing how Tolstoy allows you to see the world with child's eyes. And you can always boast you know something else by him, apart from War and Peace =)

Aksakov, Sergey TimofeyevichThe Scarlet Flower (1858)
Another literary adaptation of a fairy-tale. One of my favourite!

XX Century

Olesha, Yury KarlovichThree Fat Men (1924)
A somewhat political and revolutionist fairy-tale, but well written and full of adventures. When I read it I was of course aware of the propaganda in it, but it didn't spoil the book at all.

Kassil, Lev AbramovichThe Black Book and Schwambrania (1933)
That's my personal favourite! Set in the pre-revolutionary Russia, the book tells about normal schoolboys and the country they created for themselves in their imagination. But as world around them changes, the dreams make way for reality, which is not so perfect. But their fantasy land will stay with them and help them survive.

Kataev, Valentin PetrovichA White Sail Gleams (1936)
Again a story about the life of schoolboys in the whirl of revolution. You immediately connect with the main characters, and you can't put the book down! 

Gaidar, ArkadyThe Blue Cup (1936), Chuk and Gek (1939), Timur and his Gang (1940), stories
Gaidar wrote short stories which to someone may seem to have too much moral in them. Well, maybe. But they are still very nice and have quite fascinating adventures in them. And Timur from Timur and his Gang was my first literary love ever =)

Lagin, Lazar YosifovychThe Old Genie Hottabych (1937)
What would a normal schoolboy do if he finds a jinn, who has spent millions of years in a bottle and is now willing to serve his savior? You'll see =) A VERY funny book!

Bazhov, PavelThe Malachite Casket (1939), The Mistress of the Copper Mountain, tales
The magic of the old legends of Ural, where malachite is the main trade and business. The mood of the stories is really unique, and they are just fascinating.

Volkov, Alexander MelentyevichThe Wizard of the Emerald City (1939) (plus the rest of the Magic Land series: Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers (1963), The Seven Underground Kings (1964), The Fiery God of the Marrans (1968), The Yellow Fog (1970), The Secret of the Abandoned Castle (1982))
This is an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, and to my mind it's much better than the original. You may have fun finding the differences between two books, but sometimes they are so much different, that you can just think of them as of two absolutely different literary works. I've read it hundreds of times, and the series is my absolute favourite!

Rybakov, AnatolyThe Dirk (1948), The Bronze Bird (1956)
It's very like Harry Potter, only without magic =) But the realism of the situation makes it even better! There is a mystery which a group of children tries to solve, and it gets more and more dangerous! Rybakov is more famous for his "adult" writings, Children of Arbat being the most famous, but these books are in some aspects even better.

Gubarev, Vitali Georgievich: Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors (1951)
This is again a fantasy book about a girl getting in the country behind the mirror. Sound familiar?) But this one is far more sane and full of adventures. Oh, have I mentioned that her reflection travels with her and has all her nasty traits of character which she can observe and enjoy? Well, that's what mirror is for)

Nosov, Nikolay Nikolaevich: The Adventures of Dunno and his Friends (1954) (plus the rest of the series: Dunno in Sun City (1958), Dunno on the Moon (1966))
First two are books for small children with a lot of funny and harmless adventures. But the last one (well, it doesn't really fits into pre-1960 rule, but still) is a real children's sci-fi and dystopian novel! Boring to read as a child, but as an adult I quite enjoyed it.

A lot of attention was put to children's education in Russia and especially in Soviet Union, so many famous authors wrote for children and there are a lot of unforgettible books to be found in the field. So I'll be happy if this small guide helps you find some good books if you feel interested, and I'll be very happy to read your thoughts on these books if you've read them or if you will read them!


  1. Great list. Would you know where we can get a copy of these books for free? Are these available on Project Gutenberg? :)

    1. I know some places where you can get them in Russian for free, but in English.... well, I'm not sure. Gutenberg is not very international. What I checked is that there ARE translations, so the titles are correct, and you may search by them. If the books are on Gutenberg or somewhere else for free, they will most probably be under these titles :)

  2. Wow, this is great! Thanks so much. All of these are going on to my list, though I'm sure it will be a long time before I'm able to read most of them. Is it OK with you if I put the link to this on Howling Frog Books for the event?

    1. Of course, I'd love it if you spread the word) Yes, although they are pretty popular in Russia, and you can find them in any store, they may be hard to find in translation, but it exists, so there are chances =)

    2. OK, I posted a link. Thanks! :) My SIL is Russian...maybe if I ask her really nicely she'll find me some...(I do not exactly live close to a large Russian population in the US, which she does.)

    3. Pardon me my ignorance, but what is SIL? =) Having a Russian you know helps, that's true) When I go home for holidays I sometimes bring some books for my Czech colleagues that want to practice their Russian and can't find the books here. I need to open an international bookshop someday! =)

    4. Sorry--SIL is sister-in-law. (Or son-in-law, if you're a lot older than I am.) I need more friends from all over; right now I'm happy because we started with a violin teacher who is Czech, just in time for me to quiz him about how to pronounce all the names in The Good Soldier Svejk (I just finished!). I've always wished to be able to visit CZ. Well I did go for a few hours once, that's what made me want to visit properly!

    5. Oh, OK, now I know one abbreviation more. =) Well, stop by if you decide to visit CZ, you'll be very welcome!)

    6. Thanks! Someday, when I'm rich...or can just afford a plane ticket...

  3. Thank you so much for putting this list together! I will definitely be looking into some of these. I'm especially curious about The Wizard of the Emerald City as I know the Baum version, and am curious how the two compare.

    1. I think this one is the least difficult to find) So good luck!)

  4. I recognise so many of these from my own childhood - Krylov's fables were classic (and also used in school lessons to teach a moral :p), The Tale of Tsar Saltan - I had a book with very beautiful illustrations!, and I think other Pushkin tales were all published in one book and my cousins had it so I could read it at their place. I knew the books of Arkady Gaidar, but Timur was never my hero, he was more popular for the generation before so my mum and dad; I think I only read that book once. The Old Genie Hottabych I liked, The Malachite Casket was so mysterious! But Dunno stories were among my absolute favourites. We had one book at home - the one where he travelled to Moon - but I read another one from library. Years later when I re-read, it was funny to see everything that a child could not - all the capitalism bashing - but for a child, this was just enormously funny and entertaining book! And so it was with many, which actually contained propaganda - as a child, I only really picked out good things from there - like that friendship is important and doing the right thing.

    Great post and I'll definitely write about my childhood favourites in my blog, too!

    1. It's wonderful how many books we have in common! I wasn't expecting it :) I'm really looking forward to your list!

  5. I recently came into possession of some first editions by Rudolf mates ,J.Z.Novak ,J.V.Pleva. and Josef lada. the artwork in these children's books is spectacular. Do you consider the authors I mentioned important in Russian children's literature?

    1. Em.. I'm not sure who these guys are, but their names sound Czech, not Russian to me...

  6. Once i hv read an urdu translation of children russian novel ..
    I dinot remember name or writer
    Here i post it just to know if you know about it
    It was about a small boys n sum boys how they spend their summer vacations ..
    One of the sentence was ..when the little boy saw his sister doing skool work....
    Oh how these girls are annoying
    Alwz doung their vacation school work ..
    Will u plz help me to hv it ...
    I wil.b more than obliged .. it was almost 40 years now when i read that novel


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