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For several months I have been planning out our family subject for next year: Russia. In addition to my husband being Russian and Ukrainian, obviously as we have seen in recent weeks (if not years) Russia is very relevant to our daily lives. A basic understanding is the very least I would hope to convey. While I haven’t had the time to blog the list of resources we plan to use, I did feel reluctant to share this list considering current events. However, I have seen other homeschooling parents asking for resources to study and I do think it’s important in isolation.
This list is a work in progress, but is a reflection of the many hours I spent putting it together. I am still specifically looking for good resources to cover Russian artists, composers, and scientists. If you have anything you’d like to contribute, please feel free to add it either into the comments, or by using the contact form. Please note: all descriptions are from publisher/book seller websites. I have included the suggested age ranges, when available, for reference purposes.
This post has been updated significantly (04/11/2022) with several additional titles from my amazon wishlist to include many titles about military, arts, and music, as well as other categories. You will find all of the links below. Please note, many of these books are out of print, and it may be a good idea to check out other book sellers such as thrift books, abe books, ebay and the like. You might even check with local libraries, or thrift stores in your area.
Additionally, some of these books are parts of a series, so if your family particularly likes one of them, you might want to look into whether it’s part of a series. The same thing is true for art, music, and poetry anthologies, there are many many other options.
Lastly, please note that some of these resources are not secular insofar as they address Christian themes relating to Russia. Religion has been a point of historic contention in Russia, and you could do an entire study on its interplay with communism, the elimination of folk religion, and other related themes. So if you see, for example, Ukrainian Psanky in this list, you’ll know the greater context.
“In 1914 Russia, twelve-year-old Katya Ivanova lives a life of privilege. She’s the daughter of a lady-in-waiting to the empress and lives in the Tsar’s palace in St. Petersburg. Katya befriends the royal family and becomes particularly close to their youngest daughter, Anastasia. But life’s not so great outside the palace walls. A terrible war is sweeping through Europe, and the Russian Revolution is brewing. Many struggling peasants want to overthrow the Tsarand Katya’s cousin, Misha, sides with the poor! Katya must seek to understand what’s happening to her country as her pampered way of life begins to erode.”
“In all the world there is said to be nothing more beautiful than the Firebird. When Ivan-Tsarevitch, youngest son of the Tsar, goes on a quest for the amazing bird, he finds himself flying over mountains and woods on a talking wolf, confronting a wicked Baba Yaga, and rescuing an enchanted princess from Koshchei the Immortal. But when he returns from his magical journey, he brings home the most precious treasure of all.
Gennady Spirin brings this original version of the Firebird tale from his native Russia and has illustrated it in his trademark rich, luminous style. This retelling of a classic is sure to become the new standard.”
“Thirteen-year-old Rachel dreads the afternoons she has to spend with her great- grandmother, Nana Sashie-until Sashie begins to reminisce about her childhood in Russia and Rachel finds herself caught up in a whirlwind of memories. As the events and characters of Sashie’s past come to life, Rachel discovers a distant country and time, a time when Jews were forced to serve in the Czar’s armies or were murdered in pogroms, a time when nine-year-old Sashie devised a wonderful plan to save her family from danger. . . “
“Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside, and there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying a cornucopia of food, untold wealth, and a noble family destined to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg—a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena’s age. When the two girls’ lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and—in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured—Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.”
The Noisy Paintbox: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art , by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre(4-8)
“Vasya Kandinsky was a proper little boy: he studied math and history, he practiced the piano, he sat up straight and was perfectly polite. And when his family sent him to art classes, they expected him to paint pretty houses and flowers—like a proper artist.”
“Meet the Artist Series presents Wassily Kandinsky. Each artist activity book includes more than 30 pages of art and literacy activities for kids ages six to ten. Kids will learn about the life of a famous artist followed by activities that reinforce literacy skills and teach a little art history along the way.
Match the title to a painting, learn new vocabulary, write stories to go along with a famous painting, create your own masterpiece, and much more!”
“Katya’s grandmother took a little matryoshka, a nesting doll, out of a small box. “If your need is great, open the doll and help will come. But you may only do so three times. After that the magic will be gone.” A wicked spell has changed a handsome young prince to a pale glassy figure made of “living ice,” and his kingdom to a frozen landscape of night without moon, darkness without dawn. Katya knows that it’s up to her to rescue the prince and undo the evil spell that has banished the sun. Armed with only the magic nesting doll and her own valiant heart, she is determined to succeed. But will the combined effort of her courage and the mysterious nesting doll be strong enough to prevail?”
Anna Karenina Set (11th-12th) Memoria Press
“Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy tells the story of Anna, a woman who seems to have everything. However, she feels dissatisfied with her life until she encounters the dashing and impetuous Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes both Russian society and their family and soon gives rise to jealously and bitterness. Contrasting with this tale of self-destruction and misplaced love is the story of Levin, a man attempting to find contentment and meaning in his life. This sprawling, epic story is considered by many to be the greatest novel in literature, and it explores at length the universal themes of betrayal, faith, family, marriage, society, desire, and the contrast between rural and city life. The Anna Karenina Set provides students and educators with all the resources they need to effectively study this classic by Leo Tolstoy.”
Spotlight on Russia (K-2nd) Memoria Press
“Spotlight on Russia gives children an introduction to Russia and contains photographs of Russia’s diverse inhabitants, its unique plants and animals, and its dramatic landscapes, including beautiful Lake Baikal. Furthermore, it features the traditions and symbols of Russia from classical ballet to the Moscow Circus.”
Saving Zasha, by Randi Barrow (8-12)
“In post-WWII Russia, one boy dares to save an entire race of outlawed dogs — the German shepherd!
World War II has just ended when thirteen-year-old Mikhail finds a dying man and his German shepherd, Zasha, in the woods. It’s dangerous — some say traitorous — to own a German dog after Germany attacked Russia, so Mikhail must keep Zasha a secret to keep her alive.
But Mikhail’s rival, Katia, is determined to find the dog she is sure he’s hiding. At the same time, a soldier named Dimitri is breeding a new Russian dog at a nearby farm. So many dogs were lost in combat, to starvation, and in the slaughter of German dogs that the country is in dire need of every kind of dog.
Dimitri, too, has suspicions of Zasha’s existence, and would like nothing more than to add her to his breeding program. He’ll have to compete with the armed dog thieves who are also on her trail.
Mikhail’s inspiring journey to save his best friend, the last German shepherd in Russia, forces him to face some of life’s hardest lessons about war, hate, forgiveness, hope, love, and man’s best friend.”
Arcady’s Goal (Yelchin, 2014) (9-12)
“For twelve-year-old Arcady, soccer is more than just a game. Sent to live in a children’s home after his parents are declared enemies of the state, it is a means of survival, securing extra rations, respect, and protection. Ultimately, it proves to be his chance to leave. But in Soviet Russia, second chances are few and far between. Will Arcady seize his opportunity and achieve his goal? Or will he miss his shot?”
““[A] superb history…. In these thrilling, highly readable pages, we meet Rasputin, the shaggy, lecherous mystic…; we visit the gilded ballrooms of the doomed aristocracy; and we pause in the sickroom of little Alexei, the hemophiliac heir who, with his parents and four sisters, would be murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.” —The Wall Street Journal
Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs—at once an intimate portrait of Russia’s last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing. Using captivating photos and compelling first person accounts, award-winning author Candace Fleming (Amelia Lost; The Lincolns) deftly maneuvers between the imperial family’s extravagant lives and the plight of Russia’s poor masses, making this an utterly mesmerizing read as well as a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards.”
“Drama, family secrets, and a KGB spy in his own kitchen! How will Yevgeny ever fulfill his parents’ dream that he become a national hero when he doesn’t even have his own room? He’s not a star athlete or a legendary ballet dancer. In the tiny apartment he shares with his Baryshnikov-obsessed mother, poetry-loving father, continually outraged grandmother, and safely talented brother, all Yevgeny has is his little pencil, the underside of a massive table, and the doodles that could change everything. With equal amounts charm and solemnity, award-winning author and artist Eugene Yelchin recounts in hilarious detail his childhood in Cold War Russia as a young boy desperate to understand his place in his family.”
Spy Runner (8-11)
“It’s 1953 and the Cold War is on. Communism threatens all that the United States stands for, and America needs every patriot to do their part. So when a Russian boarder moves into the home of twelve-year-old Jake McCauley, he’s on high alert. What does the mysterious Mr. Shubin do with all that photography equipment? And why did he choose to live so close to the Air Force base? Jake’s mother says that Mr. Shubin knew Jake’s dad, who went missing in action during World War II. But Jake is skeptical; the facts just don’t add up. And he’s determined to discover the truth—no matter what he risks.”
Between Shades of Gray (Sepetys, 2011) (12-17) (link is graphic novel version.)
“Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life — until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father’s prison camp. But will strength, love, and hope be enough for Lina and her family to survive?
A moving and haunting novel perfect for readers of The Book Thief.“
The World’s Greatest Short Stories (Dover Thrift Editions)
“Wonderfully wide-ranging and enjoyable, this outstanding collection features short stories by great 19- and 20th-century writers from America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Western Europe.
Included are Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” in which two waiters and a lonely customer in a Spanish cafe confront the concept of nothingness; “A & P,” John Updike’s most anthologized story and one of his most popular; “Borges and I,” typical Jorge Luis Borges — imaginative, philosophical, and mysterious; as well as short masterpieces by Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Herman Melville, Thomas Mann, Guy de Maupassant, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, D. H. Lawrence, and ten other great writers.
Prime examples of the classic short story, these enduring literary treasures will be invaluable to students and teachers as well as to anyone who appreciates the finely turned tale.”
The Moon Is Like a Silver Sickle: A Celebration of Poetry by Russian Children (English and Russian Edition)
“In this anthology of ninety-two poems Russian children reveal their values and ideals and express their views of contemporary life”
Sugar Kid: A Story of the Girl from the Last Century Told (2014) (I found this on a list, but haven’t been able to find it) According to the description, it was “Russian Child/ Kyrgyzstan (Kirgizia) camp.
The Winter Horses (12-17)
“From Philip Kerr, the New York Times bestselling author of the Bernie Gunther novels, comes a breathtaking journey of survival in the dark days of WWII in Ukraine, a country that remains tumultuous today. This inspiring tale captures the power of the human spirit and is perfect for fans of The Book Thief, Milkweed, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
It will soon be another cold winter in the Ukraine. But it’s 1941, and things are different this year. Max, the devoted caretaker of an animal preserve, must learn to live with the Nazis who have overtaken this precious land. He must also learn to keep secrets—for there is a girl, Kalinka, who is hiding in the park.
Kalinka has lost her home, her family, her belongings—everything but her life. Still, she has gained one small, precious gift: a relationship with the rare wild and wily Przewalski’s horses that wander the preserve. Aside from Max, these endangered animals are her only friends—until a Nazi campaign of extermination nearly wipes them out for good.
Now Kalinka must set out on a treacherous journey across the frozen forest to save the only two surviving horses—and herself.”
Silver Threads (9-11)
“Silver Threads is the magical story of Anna and Ivan, two young newly-weds who escape poverty and hardship in Ukraine to start a new life on the Canadian frontier. As they struggle to build their homestead, World War I breaks out. And when Ivan volunteers to fight for his new homeland, tragedy strikes. While Anna works and waits alone, hope comes from an unexpected source.
Based on true events, Silver Threads is a stirring lesson in history and a heart-warming tale of love and faith.”
Prisoners in the Promised Land : The Ukrainian Internment Diary of Anya Soloniuk, Spirit Lake, Quebe (8-12)
“Anya’s family emigrates from the Ukraine hoping for a fresh start and a new life in Canada. Soon after they cram into a tiny apartment in Montreal, WWI is declared. Because their district was annexed by Austria — now at war with the Commonwealth — many Ukrainians in Canada are declared “enemy aliens” and sent to internment camps. Anya and her family are shipped off to the Spirit Lake Camp, in the remote wilderness of Quebec. Though conditions are brutal, at least Anya is at a camp that houses entire families together, and even in this barbed-wire world, she is able to make new friends and bring some happiness to the people around her.”
The War Below (8-12)
“The Nazis took Luka from his home in Ukraine and forced him into a labor camp. Now, Luka has smuggled himself out – even though he left behind his dearest friend, Lida. Someday, he vows, he’ll find her again.
But first, he must survive.
Racing through the woods and mountains, Luka evades capture by both Nazis and Soviet agents. Though he finds some allies, he never knows who to trust. As Luka makes difficult choices in order to survive, desperate rescues and guerilla raids put him in the line of fire. Can he persevere long enough to find Lida again or make it back home where his father must be waiting for him?
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch delivers another action-packed story, inspired by true events, of daring quests and the crucial decisions we make in the face of war.”
“An amazing collection of delightfully illustrated Russian stories and poems. The various authors are highlighted on a page before their stories &/or poems with their picture and interesting notes about their life & writing. Translated into English from the original Russian.“
“Fourteen-year-old Prussian princess Sophia finds herself entangled in her mother’s efforts to arrange a marriage between Sophia and Charles-Peter, a young German duke and nephew of the Russian empress Elizabeth. As Sophia’s mother moves to make the match, she and Sophia must travel from their humble home in Zerbst, Prussia, to Russia–the kingdom of Elizabeth. There, Sophia is renamed Catherine and married to Charles-Peter, but she watches helplessly as her family is torn from her, her own mother is involved in a spying ring against the empress, and all that is familiar to her disappears.”
“Russia in 1938 is a place of great terror. Joseph Stalin is in charge. His Secret Police are everywhere, searching for anyone who might be his enemy. People have no idea who they can trust.Seven-year-old Shura doesn’t know about any of this. He’s happy in his little home in Leningrad going to school in the mornings, playing with his best friend in the afternoon, fighting with his big sister, spending time with his Mama, Papa and baby brother Bobka.Until one day everything changes. Mama and Papa and Bobka disappear without a trace. The whispers of their neighbours are that Mama and Papa were spies, enemies of Stalin and so they have now been taken by something mysterious called The Raven. Desperate to reunite his family, Shura decides to hunt down The Raven, finding help in the most unexpected places but facing more danger than he has ever known . . .”
The Dogs of Winter (10-14)
by Bobbie Pyron
“A small boy, a cruel city, and the incredible dogs who save him.
Based on a true story!
When Ivan’s mother disappears, he’s abandoned on the streets of Moscow, with little chance to make it through the harsh winter. But help comes in an unexpected form: Ivan is adopted by a pack of dogs, and the dogs quickly become more than just his street companions: They become his family. Soon Ivan, who used to love reading fairytales, is practically living in one, as he and his pack roam the city and countryside, using their wits to find food and shelter, dodging danger, begging for coins. But Ivan can’t stay hidden from the world of people forever. When help is finally offered to him, will he be able to accept it? Will he even want to?
A heart-pounding tale of survival and a moving look at what makes us human.”
“Alex’s parents are killed during the Bolshevik Revolution and he is forced to join a gang of homeless, criminal children for survival, eventually winning freedom and decency for himself and his “family” of waifs.”
“Peter tries to learn to read in order to protect the villagers from the unfair tax collectors, but the Imperial Police make trouble for him”
Sasha and the Wolfcub (7-9)
“A story set in a Russian winter. Sasha takes his father’s sleigh and drives far outside the village. When the sleigh overturns in the snow, Sasha seeks shelter in a little wooden hut. There he finds a fierce wolfcub with bright shining eyes. Ferdy is no ordinary wolfcub – he can talk!”
“In one day, Ivan’s life is turned upside down. One moment he is daydreaming in school, the next he finds himself fighting for survival during the Leningrad siege. A gripping and haunting tale about one boy’s heroic struggle to protect his family, his country and his people.”
“This journal-style account offers young readers a look at the life and turbulant times of this young royal and the Romanov family.”
The Wolf Wilder (8-12)
“”Fairy tale and history merge seamlessly” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) in this enchanting and lyrical novel about love and resilience from the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, Katherine Rundell.
Feo’s life is extraordinary. Her mother trains domesticated wolves to be able to fend for themselves in the snowy wilderness of Russia, and Feo is following in her footsteps to become a wolf wilder. She loves taking care of the wolves, especially the three who stay at the house because they refuse to leave Feo, even though they’ve already been wilded. But not everyone is enamored with the wolves, or with the fact that Feo and her mother are turning them wild. And when her mother is taken captive, Feo must travel through the cold, harsh woods to save her—and learn from her wolves how to survive.”
Chronological List of Russian Composers
List of Russian Artists:
List of Russian Poets:
List of Russian Scientists:
Nicholas II: A Captivating Guide to the Last Emperor of Russia and How the Romanov Dynasty Collapsed as a Result of the Russian Revolution
“Tsar Nicholas II is a complicated and controversial figure in Russian history. His rule came on the heels of his autocratic father’s death, and his succession to the throne led to a revolving door of conflicts, from a brutal and bloody coronation to the eventual collapse of the Romanov family as a whole through the efforts of the Russian Revolution. As Nicholas II was such a crucial figure in shaping Russia, he deserves further inspection into his story of what guided him, what hindered him, and what led him to serve as the face of the total collapse of the over 300-year-old imperial dynasty.
In fact, Tsar Nicholas II’s life ended in such an abrupt and violent manner that historians would wonder about the details for years after the event. Not only did the tale of Nicholas II lead to an enigmatic assassination of an entire family, but it also marked a distinct turning point for the history of Russia that affected the rest of the world. To understand the catalysts leading up to the final execution of an entire royal family, though, it’s important to step back and observe how Nicholas went from a cherished heir to the Russian throne to the last tsar that Russia would ever know.”
Russian Tales: Traditional Stories of Quests and Enchantments (Traditional Tales)
“This is the remarkable true story of a family during one of the bleakest periods in history, a story that “radiates optimism and the resilience of the human spirit” (Washington Post).
In June 1941, the Rudomin family is arrested by the Russians. They are accused of being capitalists, “enemies of the people. Forced from their home and friends in Vilna, Poland, they are herded into crowded cattle cars. Their destination: the endless steppe of Siberia.
For five years, Esther and her family live in exile, weeding potato fields, working in the mines, and struggling to stay alive. But in the middle of hardship and oppression, the strength of their small family sustains them and gives them hope for the future.”
Lastly, and thank you if you’ve made it this far! I greatly benefited from The Classics of Russian Literature Great Course, which I was able to access for free through our local library. The instructor’s command of Russian History is remarkable, and very helpful for the purposes of compiling this list.
I also hope to sprinkle in some films, though I’m not sure Burnt by the Sun would be appropriate for this age group! Suggestions welcome!