I confess, sometimes when I say “I’m buying this book for my son”, I’m actually buying it for myself. Happens a lot more often than I care to do admit, actually. And that’s exactly how I got Амурские Сказки Дмитрия Нагишкина (Amur Fairytales by Dmitry Nagishkin).
You see, my kid is not into fairy tales. Never has been. When he was 2-3 years old, I tried reading him all the traditional Russian ones, from The Giant Turnip to the Ivan the Tzar’s Son and the Gray Wolf. He listened halfheartedly and soon enough would refuse to listen to them altogether.
So I kinda knew (and by “kinda” I mean I was 100% certain) that he would ignore this book just as he ignored the rest of them. So yeah, I bought Amur Fairytales for myself.
Except then something awesome happened. My fairy tales-disliking child liked the book. He loved the illustrations and he asked me to read him one story. Then – another one. And another. And soon I had to put a limit on our reading time before I lost my voice. But even after the reading ends, we spend some time just looking through the book.
Needless to say, the illustrations, by Геннадий Павлишин (Gennadiy Pavlishin), are nothing but amazing. The illustrator studied intricate ornaments decorating traditional crafts of the Nanai people.
This book turned out to be one of the most amazing additions to our library. Everything about it is top quality. Even the paper it is printed on is this thick, glossy paper that is pleasant to touch. The littlest details are lovely, down to uniquely decorated page numbers.
The fairy tales themselves are lovely in a earthy way. Unlike in many Russian fairy tales, the heroes of these stories are no fools. Magical objects do not just happen to fall in their hands. No palaces get built. No damsels in distress get rescued and become princesses. And most animals do not talk to humans.
What’s left though is somehow no less magical since these stories are set “long time ago when a man, looking at a rock, thought it to be a rock sprite; looking at a bear, thought it a taiga sprite; looking at a fish, thought it a water sprite; looking at a tree – a tree sprite.” So all kinds of magical things could happen then that no longer happen.
But apart from the text, the illustrations and the high print quality, there are other reasons I am absolutely in love with this book.
For example, raising a bilingual child, parents are concerned that the non-dominant language would be moved to the status of the “kitchen language”. Yes, it’s something that the child speaks, but within a limited range of topics, usually having to do with daily tasks. Amur Fairy Tales’s vocabulary is amazingly rich. While the sentences are short and easy to read, there are so many words – сопка, юрта, унты, тетива, шаман, нарты and many more – that occur often and enrich child’s vocabulary. There are also quite a few regional words, words directly from the local dialects, that even some adults might not know. For these there are explanations. Many of the objects described by these words can be found in the illustrations. So once you’re done reading, you can play an “I Spy” game with your child!
Here’s another reason why this book is so awesome. All the stories are very regional. They don’t just take place on the Amur. Many are very specific in their geographical references. So we always keep our globe handy when reading. It is so awesome to find the rivers, mountain ranges and islands mentioned directly or alluded to in the book. For example, in one story the hero walked westward from his village and after many days came to a huge wall as long as the eye could see. My son guessed that it was the Great Wall of China.
Finally, the book is amazingly mathematical (as many fairy tales are). There are patterns of multiplication hidden in many stories and an attentive listener (or reader) will notice them. Like, in one story a hero climbs up one mountain and there are three owls on the top of it. Then there are six owls on the top of the next mountain. How many, do you think, will be sitting on the top of the third mountain? How about the fourth mountain?
There are also visual patterns in the illustrations, rich symmetries and gorgeous tiling of shapes. So even if you don’t read Russian, but you just come across this book, you can still enjoy the artwork (and the math).
And as a bonus, here are a couple of YouTube cartoons to watch (in Russian, but with English subtitles). They tell fairy tales very similar to the ones in the book.
If you now feel you MUST own this book, the best way to order it (for those who live in the US) is through the Ozonru.com site.