Old Peter's Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome. illustrated by Faith Jaques (Canada )-(US)
Pages: 253 pgs.
Finished: Dec. 9, 2009
First Published: 1916
Genre: children, folk tales
Outside in the forest there was deep snow.
Acquired: We own this book.
Reason for Reading: read aloud to the 9yo, a story a day, every other week.
Comments: One of the wonderful aspects about this collection of Russian folk tales is that they are centred around Old Peter who looks after his grandchildren, a boy and a girl, because their parents are dead. Old Peter is known for his storytelling and the children are always clamouring for another story and sometimes Old Peter will start to tell one all on his. So at the beginning or ending of each story we have a little scene with Old Peter, Vanya and Maroosia that ties the whole book together.
Russian folk tales (or fairy tales) are absolutely splendid. This is the first time I've read this book, but I've run across a few of the tales in other compilations and in picture book format so not all were new to me but many were. The Russian folk tale is built upon some basic elements: more often than not the story is about peasants or the hero will be a peasant, they often involve the three sons or three daughters with the third less witty or most plain being our hero and finally repetition, repetition, repetition. The same scenario will repeat itself over and over and over until someone or something (perhaps an animal character) is smart enough to change the scene.
Another wonderful thing about Russian tales is that you often get three or four stories wrapped up into one tale. With common titles such as "Prince Ivan, the Witch Baby and the Little Sister of the Sun" the story will start out one way and just when you think it's ended it takes a turn on a new plot and just when that has been solved the tale up and finds another plot to follow. It's all wonderful great fun and a delight to read!
Some things to consider; these tales are not politically correct. Women are often spoken to/of in a demeaning way which is expected of 15th-17th century Russia but that doesn't mean there aren't some feisty women characters in some of the tales. There is also implied violence, people die if they have to whether it be quietly or by the edge of a sword. And finally, the tales are written with the Eastern Orthodox religion obviously being an everyday part of any self-respecting peasant's life with God being thanked and blessed many times.
I've always been fond of Russian tales (yes, there is a Baba Yaga tale here, as well as the famous "The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship") but I'm ever more so now having read this collection. Oh, I suppose I should mention, since I did read the book aloud to my son, that it was a big hit with him as well. It is actually rather sad now that we have finished this book, since we've had such a grand time together with it.