– Мама, почитай! (Rus. “Mommy, read!”)
Max and Zoe love reading, and we try to find time throughout the day to sit down with them and read. They pick books and come and sit on our lap. There are many books at our home, and we borrow books from the library sometimes.
We were looking at books with pictures and reading baby-books since Max and Zoe were about 4 months old if not earlier. The attention span gradually increased. Around the age of 13 months, both children would say “bye-bye” or “пока” (Rus. “bye”) to the book that they no longer wanted to read and would try to close it. These early attempts at expressing their own will and preferences were adorable and funny.
The books below are presented in the chronological order, the way they were introduced to Max and Zoe. As you can see there are more books in Russian than Swedish. This is my conscious attempt at compensating for the lack of natural Russian-speaking environment. Furthermore, Max and Zoe’s daycare offers additional books in Swedish, so we are eventually even-steven in this case.
We had books to be read in a bath tub. The favourite book there was “Теремок” (“A Wooden Hut”). Both Max and Zoe liked knocking on the bath when in the book animals knocked on the hut door.
The first most favourite book for Max and Zoe was “Кого Ищет Тигренок?” (“Who is the little tiger looking for?) since they were as young as 5 months old. They could endlessly (try to) flip the pages over and over again. Simple rhymes and animal sounds are pre-recorded, and the colourful and not too busy pictures move, which makes this book excellent for little kids.
Max and Zoe also liked books by A. Barto and “Щекотушки” by E. Uljeva (Rus. “Tickles”). The latter has fantastic illustrations and poems. I came up with some arms/hands/feet/legs movements to accompany some of the poems. This made the poems even more attractive for the kids at the age 1-2 years. Zoe was particularly quick at memorising all the movements, and she was very eager to show what she knew. Max knew the movements too, but he only did them occasionally.
Russian fairy tales, folklore. I must admit that the specific vocabulary that characterises Russian fairy-tales (old-fashioned words or excessive diminutive forms of adjectives and nouns) make these books not as easily accessible for kids under one and a half years as the books mentioned above. I still read Russian fairy-tales, like “Маша и Медведь” (“Masha and the Bear”), “Волк и Семеро Козлят” (“The Wolf and Seven Goatlings”), “Колыбельные, потешки, лепеталки” (“Lullabies, nursery rhymes and tongue twisters”) etc, but the kids rarely chose those books on their own initiative. One good exception to this rule was “Колобок. Музыкальная сказка” (Kolobok. The musical fairly tale). Although some sounds in the book are rather random, Max and Zoe like this book.
We started listening to some of the Russian fairy tales as audio-books in the car around 1 year as well.
Translations from English. I translated a lot of English-language and Swedish-language books. I find them a little more age appropriate than Russian fairy-tales: there is a simple but clear plot, a lot of repetition in vocabulary, and the pictures are not as busy. Most of our Russian-language books were given/sent to us as presents from Russia, so I could not say what choice there was on the Russian market before our trip to Russia when Max and Zoe were 19 months old. My favourite books to translate into Russian (simultaneously) were the “Good Night…” series (Good Night Beach, Good Night Ocean, Good Night Chicago), “That’s Not My…” series, and stories about Max in Swedish. At 17 months our own Max could relay the plot in “Max Lampa”: [Mas’ – aj-jaj-jaj! – Ba:!/Bu:m! – Ma:ma: – aj-jaj-jaj]. In a nutshell,
Of course, living in the USA we could not escape the classic “Goodnight, Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown. I regret not having bought this book in Russian (“Баю-баюшки, луна”, translated by M. Boroditskaya). My translation of this peculiar poem as prose left much to be desired.
On the other hand, another adorable book that can be easily translated is “Where to sleep” by Kandy Radzinski. It is about a cute little kitten that is looking for a place to sleep, and the best way to do that turns out to be “curled up at my best friend’s feet”. The book suits children from 6 months to 4 years. There is a kind plot, a good vocabulary, and the sentences are short and not crowded.
We also had a few books that had pre-recorded songs in Russian, mainly lullabies. These were very popular, especially with Max. Their only downside was that only a short version of the songs was recorded, and the batteries needed constant changing.
Books with pre-recorded stories are also fun, especially if the voice that narrates the story is as pleasant as the one in the book Прыгающий домик by M. Plyatskovsky (“A hopping house”). Max and Zoe love listening to the stories, but answering the questions was still difficult at the age of 2,5 years. Thus, the book has a good educational challenge which Max and Zoe will hopefully be able to crack at 3.
Another favourite from the age of 6 months to 2 years was the book “Привет, я Мишутка!” (“Hi! I am Mishutka”). This book has animal sounds for every character in the book, and the main character, the bear who walks in the forest and meets new friends, is actually a puppet, which adds an extra fun-factor!
The only disappointment for us was the book “Петушок – золотой гребешок”. The publishers promised a lot of fun with pre-recorded children’s songs as well as the keys that actually worked as a little piano. The book broke the same week we got it, and replacing the batteries did not help to revive it.
A famous Russian cat Leopold became our friend at around 2 years. This book with songs from the classic Soviet cartoon is a hit in our house. The plot contains good moral, and the songs are very catchy.
At the age of 2 years we were recommended by another well-read mother, my friend Masha, a few exciting children’s books by English-speaking writers translated into Russian. For example, Max and Zoe really liked “Gruffalo”. In general, I find stories with rhymes great for learning the language as the rhyme allows the children to predict the end of the line.
Another character that became one of our kids’ favourites is “Paddington” (by Michael Bond). For a long while I was translating a book from English into Russian for Max and Zoe until more books about this funny and charming bear were brought to us from Russian by our relatives. Books with cultural realia, here British, are also great for teaching some notions a certain country is associated with, like flags and famous buildings. Martin is on a mission to teach Max and Zoe world flags and geography in general, so Paddington was a great start. At the age of 3 we bought two more books from this series, this time in Swedish.
“Steam Train, Dream Train” by Sherri Duskey Rinker & Tom Lichtenheld translated into Russian was another favourite around 2-2,5 years. Martin just rendered the content of the book in Swedish, but I found the actual translation of this beautiful poem into Russian. The book gives names to all types of train carriages, Max’s new favourite after planes, and the cargo they transport; it has fascinating pictures and the characters are animals, Zoe’s favourite.
“Mulle Mekk” by George Johansson tended to be more popular with Max than with Zoe as it had to do with constructing something and vehicles, but both kids enjoyed reading it. Zoe liked the line in the plot to do with Mulle’s dog though.
We fell in love with the books by Rotraut Susanne Berner. These are picture books for elder kids (2-5 years, possibly) with a great number of story lines one can track. Pick a character and see how their story develops from one page to another. The books are translated into Russian, but what this actually means is that, for example, the names of the shops in the pictures are in Russian, etc. There is no actual text, which makes the book perfect for the development of the kids’ story-telling skills.
Another interesting book with a series of picture sequences is “Про девочку Машу и куклу Наташу” (“About a girl Masha and her doll Natasha”) by Chizhikov. At the age of 2 years and 10 months both Max and Zoe are able to come up with short stories based on the pictures in this book.
Max and Zoe first met the Russian version of “Winnie-the-Pooh” by Alan Miln when they were around 2 years old. The book was translated by Boris Zakhoder. The text is dear to any Russian speaker who has ever seen the cartoon as it revives sweet memories of one’s childhood. I am looking forward to the time when my children will start to appreciate the humour too. At the age of 2-3 years they just loved the book and the pictures in it.
Another book, this time by B. Zakhoder himself, “Бочонок собачонок” (“A doggy-barrel”), starts challenging our children’s minds around the age of 3. Zakhoder’s language is more complex than that of many children’s authors in Russian, but this book is full of humour, hidden messages and word plays which together contribute to a wonderful reading experience.
At 2 years and 3 months “Karlsson” by Astrid Lindgren became one of our good friends too. The book in Russian that we got from our grandmother Valentina was too advanced for 2-year-olds though, so I just summarised the plot for Max and Zoe at that stage, and they enjoyed looking at the beautiful pictures. They liked the Russian cartoon too.
Another Russian classic is “Ёжик в Тумане” (“A Hedgehog in the Fog”) by Sergei Kozlov. We bought the book at Fort Ross, California, in summer 2013 before we moved to Sweden. At that stage the book was too advanced for Max and Zoe, and the pictures were not very clear either. By the time the kids turned 2, however, they already appreciated the story and could predict the plot. They liked imitating the owl from the story.
We watched the cartoons based on the short stories by V. Suteyev, and we also had his book which we got when the children were 17 months old. As Suteyev’s characters are primarily animals, Zoe got to like this book from the first time we opened it. Suteyev was also a talented artist and made all the amazingly sweet illustrations himself.
Our trip to Saint Petersburg in August 2014 was very fruitful for our library as many great books were added to our library. The books we felt skeptical about at first was a book series “Саша и Маша” (“Sasha and Masha”) by the Dutch writer Fiep Westendorp. The books contain short stories about two children, the stories that children of 2-3 can already easily relate to. Do not allow the black-and-white illustrations discourage you. These books are GREAT! The vocabulary is very age-appropriate, and reasonably challenging.
Although I purposefully was avoiding Chukovsky’s books because of a few blood-thirsty poems of his, we got this book as a present in August 2014. Ah well, I just tried to avoid some of the particularly violent poems in the book, but Max and Zoe really got to like the long poem about a hospitable fly who nearly fell victim to a horrible spider but was saved by a chivalrous mosquito (Муха-Цокотуха), the poem about the kind doctor who treated animals all over the globe (Айболит), as well as the poem that advocates hygiene (Мойдодыр). I personally like the way Chukovsky plays with the Russian language, how alliterations and unique ever-changing rhythm make his poems song-like, almost like rap! Max and Zoe appreciate these melodious bits too and, sure enough, these bits were the first to be memorised.
I am so thankful to my good friend Katya for reminding me of this childhood friend of mine, the Mole (Czech) by Zdeněk Miler. Although the long stories, that at times do not seem to lead anywhere, can bore an adult, children’s attention is gripped by such details only their exploring minds can find so fascinating. Max particularly got to like the story where the Mole is building a car, and another one where the Mole flies a toy rocket. Great vocabulary!
During our trip to Russia in summer 2014 we bought a few books by S. Marshak (С. Я. Маршак). His riddles and poems are written with a very accessible language.
We started showing Max and Zoe letters around 2 years, but we were not ambitious about it, and systematically introduced only 5 letters by the age of 3: M, Z, Ж ([zh]) A and O. Except for Z which has a different Russian equivalent “З”, M, A and O are almost the same in both languages with slight differences in pronunciation of
“O” ([uː] in the Swedish alphabet). Max and Zoe recognised “their” letters by the age of 2,5. They recognise Ж ([ʒ]) because they saw many of them in the Winnie-the-Pooh books, in the story about Pooh and his encounter with bees. Thus, they associated this letter with bees and the sound [ʒ], rightly so. We occasionally played with cards with Russian letters and short words on them, as well as with magnetic letters that we would attach on a magnetic easel that we have. Picture books like “Азбука для малышей” became interesting at the age of 2,5 (“ABC for babies”).
Another sweet book that we bought when Max and Zoe were, 2,5 was “Огород Кастора“, a Russian translation of a Swedish book by Lars Klinting “Castor odlar” (“Castor is gardening”). The book tells about gardening discoveries of a beaver. The vocabulary is age appropriate, the illustrations are very nice, and the whole story presents new knowledge about how plants grow, which is very useful too.
The big book of poems and stories by Usachev (А. Усачев “Большая книга стихов и рассказов”) is a real discovery for parents and children. The author has a great sense of humour! The children love his character, a little puppy Sonya, who always gets in the same kind of trouble their curious selves tend to get. And the illustrations in this edition are bright and cheerful. Another colourful and clever book that was given to us as a present was a collection of Usachev’s funny poems “Поющая рыба” (“A singing fish”).
Tokmakova’s “Где спит рыбка” (“Where the fish sleeps”) is another example when funny poems accompanied by bright illustrations make a wonderful children’s book.
It is handy to have pocket-books with children’s poems. Zoe was particularly fond of small books. These books are a great company on the go, for example “Малышам про всё на свете” (“For the babies about everything in the world”).
Another wonderful author who writes poems for children is I. Pivovarova. We liked reading her book “Жили-были пони” (“Once upon a time there was a pony”).
Her poems are rather long unlike the ones in the previous book, but the language is accessible for 2,5-year-olds.
Renata Mukha is a new exciting author, and her book “Ужаленный уж” (“A stung adder”) is full of paradoxical poems as good as Zakhoder’s. This book quickly became Zoe’s favourite at 2 years and 10 months when we got it as a present from my cousin. Zoe refers to the book as “Книжка про доктора-ёжика” (“The book about the doctor Hedgehog”).
Furthermore, we have a book of children’s poems “Планета детства” by V. Novichikhina (“The childhood planet”), a contemporary children’s aurthor from my home-town, Barnaul. The poems are categorised in the book according to children’s age-groups. The poems are very kind, however, they lack the spark that is so exciting about Zakhoder and Mukha’s poems.
When Max and Zoe were 17 months old we bought them a book “Я знаю машины” (“I know cars”). It is a great book with a “magical pen” that children need to use to point at different cars, and then a voice says what car that is. Max loved this book so much that he quickly tore all the pages, so the book stopped working. When the children were just under 3, we got this book again as a New Year present from Russia. At this age Max and Zoe are old enough to know the consequences of tearing the book’s pages, so they now fully appreciate this interactive book.
A fascinating book that tells us about different animals and their unique features is “What do you do with a tail like this?” by S. Jenkins and R. Page. We read this book in Russian translation “Про хвосты, носы и уши“. The children get to guess which animal different body parts belong to. They further get to know how these unusual parts help their owners to survive.
Another book about animals, their type of dwelling and their favourite staple food, that especially Zoe liked, was “Что я ем и где я живу” (“What I eat and where I live”). The children need to browse through four sets of themed pictures and match them. It is at times challenging, especially as far as dwellings are concerned, but a good way to develop the vocabulary.
We started reading the stories by N. Nosov, a children’s classic from the Soviet times, at around 2 years and 8 months. The stories are longer than in, for example, “Sasha and Masha” (see above), and they are targeted at older children. Max and Zoe got bored in the middle of the story, so we would put Nosov’s books away and come back to them from time to time. One day their time will come.
The absolute favourite around the age of one was the series of books about Max. We have Max Lampa and Max Napp (“Max’s Pacifier”). Although the moral in the latter is rather questionable, as in order to get his pacifier back from the duck Max hits the duck on the head and runs away laughing. Martin raised his eye-brows when he first read the book, and we tried to soften the finale in our version of the end of the story. Two years later I think that this self-censoring was unnecessary. It is not like such situations do not take place in life. We should have instead just commented on what the main character did wrong and why – a good opportunity to teach kindness.
The book our whole family absolutely loved was Svenska Barnvisor by Tina Ahlin. Karaoke for children, that’s what it is in a nutshell. There is no such book in Russian, alas (at least I have not come across anything like it). I am seriously starting to contemplate about publishing one! The book contains 50 (!) popular children’s songs in Swedish, with notes and complete lyrics. The pictures are also fun. One can choose the number of the song and sing along to a lovely piano accompaniment. The recorded version is full, and not just a short show-case, like in the Russian lullaby books that we had. Between one and two years, Max particularly liked going through the songs. He listened to the very end of a song and then pressed the button to listen to the next one. His quality Max-time.
Translations from English. Martin also translated the books from English to Swedish like I did. He tried to do the same with the Russian stories that we had, but he often preferred to make up his own stories instead, which I did not particularly approve of. I think that using the same book to tell absolutely different stories is confusing for our children. I, thus, insisted that Martin stuck to the plot at least loosely.
We also had picture books, like “Baby Einstein”, “First picture word book”, “Mina första 100 djur” (“My first 100 animals”), etc which Max and Zoe adored flipping through. It was very rewarding to see that they had equivalents for so many pictures in two languages (Russian and Swedish) in their little heads already at 15 months: animals, most common objects, means of transport (plane, train, car, truck, tractor and boat being the most favourite).
Another picture book that Max was particularly fond of was “Bilderbok” (Swe. “Picture book”) by Jan Lööfs because there are pages with pictures of different musical instruments as well as pages with trains, trams and subway – the two categories Max is so fond of. At the age of 2 our son would insist at looking at these pictures 10 times a day!
Around 2,5 years another picture book with all sorts of transport was given to Max as a present. He would sneak out of his bed at night, switch on the light to his sister’s outrage, and browse through pages and pages of planes, cars, trains and the like.
I really liked the book “Emma Tvärtemot” for its vocabulary and for the dichotomous presentation of Emma’s behaviour (when she was being good and when she was “the opposite/the other way round”). Max and Zoe, though, got tired of the story half way thorough at the age of 16-17 months. They said “bye-bye” when they did not wish to be read the book and they closed the book. This happened with this book very often. Nevertheless, it is written with a good sense of humour, and I find it very beneficial from the point of view of its vocabulary.
“Barbapapa” and the family helped us to introduce Max and Zoe to counting and numbers around 17-18 months. At the age of 2,5 Max and Zoe could count to 15 and back in Swedish with a little help, and to 10 and back in Russian.
Of course, we could not escape “Bamse”, the strongest bear in the world. Although the stories are a bit too long for 2-year-olds, in my opinion. We also showed the kids cartoons about Bamse, which they liked a lot, but I found the music from the cartoons a little repetitive and, thus, irritating.
Another fantastic series of books is about a little girl “Ingrid”. With the help of these books very useful vocabulary to do with children’s routine and everyday activities is easily introduced. Mind you, Ingrid can become a role-model for your kids which can result in their addiction to adhesives and passion for parties and cakes. Both things happened to Max and Zoe. They strongly believe in the power of adhesives to cure just about anything! The story in each book is very simple, and the kids may outgrow these books by the age of 2,5 years.
I liked the tale about a little-little granny by a Swedish writer, Elsa Beskow (“Sagan om den lilla lilla gumman“). It is a charming story with stunning old-fashioned illustrations. As this book narrates about the old granny and her cat, Zoe was its big fan.
Beskow’s “Sagan om den nyfikna abborren” was less popular in our house when the children were 2-3 years. The plot may have been too complicated for them.
At around 2 years Max’s allegiance shifted from planes to trains, and I bought him a book by A. Norlin Halvan, “Här Kommer Tåget” (“Here comes the train”). The book gives a lot of details about the construction and the work of a specific make of trains in Sweden. It was fascinating for Max in particular to scrutinize every page with illustrations.
We have almost all the fantastic books from the series “Barnkammar boken“ which also contain CDs. The CDs are great as they have a recording of the songs and rhymes from the book. We played them often in the car, and the kids simply loved the series! It also worked like magic when someone was cranky in the car: all the whining stopped with the first chords.
“Where The Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak was dear to us. It helps that the character’s name is Max. Max and Zoe often recognised the illustrations in different places like book-stores and screamed in delight: “Max!” ! It is a classic. A very kind book with a great moral and an endless source for discussion.
At 2 years and 3 months Max and Zoe met “Pettson and Findus” by Sven Nordqvists. I myself am quite fond of these two unique characters and of the great friendship that exists between them. The cartoons are very interesting too, and the language is just challenging enough for this age to encourage language development. Beautiful pictures, an intriguing plot and sweet funny mucklor (you will have to read the book to find out who these creatures are).
We also had animal books with pre-recorded animal sounds “Kul med ljud. Muuu” and “Kul med ljud. Grrr” (“Cool with the sound”). These books were fun at around 2, but then the children got bored with them rather quickly.
It was slightly more fun to sing along with the book “Hjulen på bussen” (“Wheels on the bus”), as Max and Zoe knew this wonderful song since they lived in the USA.
Since our children’s interest in flags and maps was established, Martin has been eagerly buying sticker-books and books with colourful maps. The most interested of the two in the topic was Max (age 2,5 and on), although Zoe also liked to study the maps and look for the right place to attach the stickers with various flags. The teachers at the daycare admitted that at some point Max recognised more world flags than they did. Max’s interest in geography was also sport-related, so it rocketed after the World Cup in football 2014 where he got many opportunities to spot flags on the TV screen while watching games with Martin.
Carrying on with geography. We love reading and translating books about world cities, for example “This is San Francisco”, or a book about Paris (Mes P’tits DOCS), or “Загадочный Петербург” (“Mysterious St Petersburg”).
They are in English (except for the one about St Petersburg), so we just translate them into Swedish and Russian. It is great to attach personal memories to
such books, this contributes to the emotional value of the books. Thus, Max and Zoe know that we lived near San Francisco, that they were born there, and we keep telling them OUR stories when reading this book. Furthermore, every time we read the book about Paris, the children remind us that “Mamma was in Paris” (I brought this book from my trip to Paris. The children remember the time I was away, and they remember where I was.). And, of course, they love the book about St Petersburg because their favourite aunt Natasha, uncle Nikita and their cat Mukha live there. Max and Zoe visited them in August 2014 and remember the trip and our walks around this magnificent city. They even recognize some of the buildings in the book! I believe it is important and stimulating to have books with such emotional value attached to them.
Martin loved reading Disney stories about Donald Duck (Swe. Kalle Anka) and his nephews. At the age of 2-2,7 Max and Zoe were addicted to one book where Donald Duck goes to a masquerade. They knew many lines from the book by heart, and loved finishing sentences when Daddy was reading. Another Disney book that Zoe liked was “Aristocats i farten” (“Aristocats”). However, similar Disney stories, like “Bambi” were not popular with Max and Zoe at that age. Maybe, their time will come!
The book that helped us to explain some anatomical differences between boys and girls to Max and Zoe was “Totte and Malin” by Gunilla Wolde. It is a very simple book which addresses this sensitive topic matter-of-factly and naturally. A great help to the parents who find this topic embarrassing.
Furthermore, Max and Zoe learnt their manners from the book “Excuse me! A little book of manners”. Of course, we ourselves always used polite words in our speech when talking to our children ever since the children were born, so “tack” (Swe. “thank you”), etc. and their equivalents in Russian, quite naturally, entered their vocabularies rather early, at 14 months.
At the age of 2,5 longer fairy tales became interesting for Max and Zoe, and Martin started reading the book “Nallebjörnarnas sagostund”. It was particularly fun to substitute the names of the boy-bear and the girl-bear by “Max” and “Zoe” respectively.