Baba’s Babushka: Magical Ukrainian Adventures
Written by Marion Mutala, Illustrated by Amber Rees, Wendy Siemens, Olha Tkachenko
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$39.95 ISBN 9-781988-783611
Before one reads a single word of Baba’s Babushka, it’s evident that this illustrated children’s book is far beyond the ordinary. The 175-page hardcover emanates quality, from the phenomenal production – including colourful, full-page illustrations opposite the text pages, each bordered in a Ukrainian embroidery design – to the heft of the paper used, the contributions of three skilled illustrators, the inclusion of Ukrainian recipes, and a glossary for the numerous Ukrainian words used in the text. The package is highly impressive … and then there are the four heartwarming, connected tales Mutala spins within the book.
Saskatchewan’s Mutala is already known for her award-winning, Ukrainian-themed children’s books, including More Baba’s, Please! and My Dearest Dido: A Holodomor Story, but this latest publication – essentially four books in one – is her tour de force. In each magical story, young Natalia – who lives on a farm near Hafford, SK – is whisked into her ancestral past when her recently-departed and much-loved grandmother’s (Baba’s) colourful babushka (head scarf) materializes – via flowers, swirling leaves, or “a few white feathers” – on the girl’s own head. Nature-loving Natalia is lifted into the sky and further – “she burst through clouds and rushed past stars, nearly touching the moon as she sped through the heavens” – before she finds herself transported into her Baba’s life in the “old country,” Ukraine.
Readers first travel with the blonde-haired girl to “A Magical Ukrainian Christmas,” where she joins a loving and devout family traditionally attired in blue (females) or black (males) vests over white blouses or shirts decorated with red embroidery at their twelve-dish Christmas Eve meal. The interloping girl – she’s invisible to her ancestors – is familiar with the numerous traditions, ie: “three loaves of round, braided kolach bread had been stacked on top of each other and placed specially in the centre of the table, each shaped in the circle of God’s unending love” and feels at home. On the wall she spies her grandparents’ wedding photo – I assume this is an actual photo of the author’s grandparents – and makes the connection that the girl at the table beside her is, in fact, her Baba. In the remaining stories – “A Magical Ukrainian Easter,” “A Magical Ukrainian Wedding,” and “A Magical Ukrainian Journey” – Mutala includes descriptions of and explanations for the various traditions, and we witness Baba’s life unfold.
Each story follows a similar pattern and demonstrates the Ukrainian family’s warmth, faith, customs, and fun-loving nature. I learned about the relevance of symbols (candles, honey); about cultural superstitions, ie: a spider and web are “placed on the Christmas tree for luck,” and a “high, beautifully golden loaf of paska [means] a year of blessings;” and about the Easter pysanky (colourfully decorated eggs) legend, where “a chained-up dragon keeps track of how many eggs are made, and if one year there aren’t enough, the dragon will be released and destroy everything.”
This thoughtful, imaginative and beautifully-crafted collection of culturally- significant stories is a blessing in itself. May Baba’s Babushka be enjoyed far and wide.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM