Baba's Babushka: Magical Ukrainian Adventures
Baba's Babushka: Magical Ukrainian Adventures
Natalia pulled on her jacket as she danced her way outdoors. It was an early summer morning, but she wasn’t cold. She was anxious to play outside in the sunshine by her favourite spot – her family’s pond.
Natalia’s family farmed near Hafford, Saskatchewan, and she loved the country life and the outdoors. . . .
A flock of large white birds with long black legs had paused their journey for a meal and a paddle in the pond. Natalia settled herself on a little rise near a tree to watch them, intrigued by their antics. They most ignored her, busy as they were, wading along the shore and eating.
All at once, as if on cue, the birds rose from the water with a long whooping call, moving together in a swirling dance high in the sky. A few white feathers floated on the wind to where Natalia sat. (From “Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Journey”, pp. 132-135.)
Baba's Babushka: Magical Ukrainian Adventures is a compilation of four books, three of which, Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Christmas; Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Easter and Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Wedding, have been previously reviewed in CM. The fourth title, Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Journey, is new and will be the principal focus of this review.
The feathers mentioned in the above “Excerpt” transform into a “beautifully flowered gold-fringed babushka” (p. 135). As in the previous three “Baba’s Babushka” books, Natalia knows that in this story, Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Journey, she is off on a time-travelling adventure with Baba (her grandmother). This time, Natalia finds herself standing on the sidewalk outside the “Arrivals” gate of the airport in Kyiv (Kiev), capital of Ukraine. Her grandparents have returned to visit the country that they had left as a newly-married young couple to start life on a farm of their own in Canada.
Before travelling to the rural village which they had left decades ago, Baba and Dido (Natalia’s grandfather) tour many of Kyiv’s important historical sites. For Natalia, it is an enriching heritage tour in which she visits places which have great cultural significance for Ukrainians. Baba’s first name is “Sophia”, and the first stop is the famous St. Sophia Cathedral built by one of the Grand Princes of ancient Ukraine. At the cathedral, Baba is moved to tears at an icon of the Virgin and Child as it reminds her of the one presented to her and Dido and blessed by the priest during their wedding ceremony, but which had then been left behind when she and her husband journeyed to Canada (Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Wedding). From the cathedral’s gold-topped bell tower, Natalia and her grandparents look out over the city, and, from that vista, they see the gold-domed bell tower of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the Monastery of Caves. The Upper Lavra is a complex of many buildings and churches, but the Lower Lavra is an ancient “network of tiny dark caves” (p. 144) a series of catacombs holding the mummified bodies of its monks. Following visits to the Zoloti Vorota, the “Golden Gate” (the ancient entrance to Kyiv) and Taras Hill, named for Ukraine’s national poet-artist, Taras Shevchenko, Baba. Dido, and Natalia find themselves in a rural village, a place very much like Hafford, Saskatchewan.
Baba and Dido are greeted by their relatives with “joyful hugs and exclamations of vitaemo” (Welcome, p. 155), and, as she listens to the conversation, Natalia realizes the importance of her parents’ insistence on learning to read and write in the Ukrainian language. Later, as Dido drifts off to sleep in the guest bedroom, Baba looks out the window at a stork’s nest. Storks are considered emblems of good luck in Ukrainian culture, and, as she watches the stork, Baba Sophia sees something fall from the nest. It is a motanka doll dressed in a gold coloured flowered apron, just like Natalia’s babushka, and “instead of features, its face bore glossy threads that formed a cross to symbolize the unity of heaven and earth, the four cardinal directions, the four seasons, and the sun.” (p. 159) At dawn, Baba goes outside, picks up the doll, says the name “Natalia” and tells Dido that “they’re going to name the baby Natalia.” (p. 159) Soon, her grandparents’ visit ends, and Natalia wakes up from her adventure. When Natalia returns to her home in Saskatchewan, Dido has a present for her: the gold motanka of her dream-adventure as well as three others which Baba made for her. Holding the gold doll, Natalia hears the name “Marusia”, spoken very softly. The dolls are a very special gift, and the gold motanka tells her that perhaps, one day, she will be a baba with a granddaughter of her own.
In the first two Baba’s Babushka books, the stories are set during the winter and spring holidays of Ukrainian Christmas and Easter, depicting those celebrations in the context of their unique spiritual and cultural customs. The third book in the series, Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Wedding, is set in autumn, the season of Natalia’s grandparents’ wedding and departure for life in Canada. In each of those books, one of Baba’s babushkas (head-scarves) is the portal through which Natalia travels back in time and place and sustains connection with her beloved grandmother. The final story of the collection, A Magical Ukrainian Journey, takes place in summer, and, as she accompanies her grandparents on their visit to their homeland, Natalia learns of Ukraine’s history, the strength of its spiritual and cultural traditions, and the value of knowing her heritage language. It completes the cycle of stories, reminding Natalia that she was loved by Baba, even before she was born, and hints at Natalia’s own future. Above all, it continues the story of the mutual love between grandchildren and grandparents and the value of knowing one’s family history.
In Baba’s Babushka: Magical Ukrainian Adventures, Marion Mutala traces Baba’s life story from girlhood to adulthood, connecting it with Natalia’s learning of and understanding the source of the Ukrainian traditions which are an important part of her life. The series is stronger for having all four stories in one collection. Rather unusual for a series, three different artists have illustrated the stories, and, in A Magical Ukrainian Journey, Olha Tkachenko’s illustrations are soft but colourful. In all four stories, the full-colour illustrations face each page of text which is bordered by a geometric Ukrainian embroidery motif, and, unlike the previous three books, this collected volume is paginated and sturdily bound. As with the previous three releases, there’s a “Glossary” and pronunciation guide for those readers with minimal knowledge of Ukrainian. A special recipe or two follows the ending of each of the four stories, and this book is no exception. Baba and Dido’s homecoming would have been a very special event for their Ukrainian relatives, and perhaps Baba Sophia would have enjoyed a torte for which her recipe is included.
While boys also feel great warmth and love for their babas (and didos), Baba’s Babushka: Magical Ukrainian Adventures is likely to be read and enjoyed by girls. The book is definitely a worthwhile acquisition for elementary school libraries and resource collections in schools which offer Ukrainian language programing and for public libraries serving communities with significant Ukrainian-Canadian populations.
Joanne Peters is a retired teacher-librarian living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Treaty 1 Territory and Homeland of the Métis People.