Anglo-American Graphic Novels about the Soviet Space Program

In the past couple of years, two graphic novels–one American and one British–have been published about the Soviet space race.  The first of these, Laika, by Nick Abadzis, was published by First Second in 2007 to great acclaim.  If you haven’t read this one, I highly recommend it.

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing calls Laika “haunting” and “sweet,” and Betsy Bird of A Fuse #8 Production (and the most well-known children’s book blogger in the U.S.) concludes that Laika, “…is an ode to dogs themselves. To the animals that we befriend and love and, ultimately, destroy. It’s also about history, humanity, and the price of being extraordinary. No one can walk away from this book and not be touched.”

(Don’t miss the comments to the Boing Boing post.  In them, you will find the lyrics to a Polish children’s song about Laika and well as a reference to other artistic works about the first dog in space.) 
Now a new graphic novel has come out in the U.K. (December 2010) commemorating the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight.  Titled Yuri’s Day: The Road to the Stars, this graphic novel aimed at a teen and adult audience is attracting some interest in Russia.  Nick Dowson reports for The Moscow Times that Yuri’s Day–written by Piers Bizony, illustrated by Andrew King, and designed by Peter Hodkinson–has been well received and will soon be translated into Russian.  Indeed, the authors of Yuri’s Day are responding to comments and corrections at their website for future editions of the graphic novel and for the Russian translation.  It’s an interesting process, that’s for sure.

Here’s a review of Yuri’s Day: The Road to the Stars by Graham Southorn at Sky at Night Magazine (a BBC site).

A Russian Reimagines “The Lord of the Rings”

last ringbearerI’ll admit it: I am not a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series.  But, most teenagers are and The Lord of the Rings trilogy serves as Young Adult fiction for teenagers all over the world, including for Russian teens.

Kirill Yeskov, a Russian writer/paleontologist/biologist, published a reimagining of The Lord of the Rings, titled The Last Ringbearer (1999), which tells the tale from Mordor’s point of view. Yisroel Markov has translated The Last Ringbearer into English and it is available for download here.

Laura Miller,’s book editor, reviewed The Last Ringbearer this week, writing:

The novel still has some rough edges — most notably, a confused switching back and forth between past and present tense in the early chapters — and some readers may be put off by Yeskov’s (classically Russian) habit of dropping info-dumps of military and political history into the narrative here and there. For the most part, though, “The Last Ringbearer” is a well-written, energetic adventure yarn that offers an intriguing gloss on what some critics have described as the overly simplistic morality of Tolkien’s masterpiece.

Salon has also published Yeskov’s essay on The Last Ringbearer and The Lord of the Rings, an essay well worth reading for Yeskov’s views on Tolkien’s trilogy and because Yeskov explains why and how he retold Tolkien’s tale.  Yeskov writes, 

The Last Ring-bearer” was written for a very specific audience, too – it’s just another “fairy tale for junior scientists” of which I am one. It is meant for skeptics and agnostics brought up on Hemingway and brothers Strugatzky, for whom Tolkien is only a charming, albeit slightly tedious, writer of children’s books. Those were the people who got the biggest kick out of the novel; theirs were the reviews that used the expression “sleepless night,” dear to any writer’s heart, most often.

The Kniguru Prize

kniguruOn November 11, 2010, the Bol’shaia kniga committee announced a new award, Kniguru.  This prize will be for the best Russian work of 2010 for children and young adults.  The organizers note that the name of the prize was chosen by children. (It’s pretty good, isn’t it?)
A panel of children’s book experts will select first a long list of nominated books and then a short list of the best for a jury of youngsters ages 10-16 (those registered on the official site) to consider.  This “jury” will ultimately choose the winning book whose author will receive an award of 300, 000 rubles.

A press release from February 4 announces that the contest has now closed and there will be 403 books considered. The Fairy Tale and Fantasy are most popular in this first year, with the Young Adult realistic novel in third place.

Interview with Liudmila Ulitskaya

families_2007Don’t miss Galina Iuzefovich’s interview with Liudmila Ulitskaya for Itogi, published today.  In the interview, Iuzefovich asks Ulitskaya about her children’s book series project–Другой, другие, о других.  Iuzefovich asks, “Если уж говорить о людях не вполне взрослых, то хотелось бы спросить о вашем книжном проекте — цикле познавательных книг для подростков. Почему вы, писатель, а не редактор, не издатель, вообще за него взялись?”

Ulitskaya’s answer is very interesting.  She says:

  • Я бы предпочла, чтобы проектом «Другой, другие, о других» занимался кто-нибудь другой. Другого не нашлось, а у меня было такое ощущение, что проект этот необходим. Если бы наше государство вкладывало деньги в воспитание уважения к другому человеку, к другой культуре, то это могло бы сбросить то напряжение, которое мы сегодня наблюдаем. Те бывшие мальчики, которые вышли на Манежную площадь в декабре, может, не были бы так агрессивны, если б их больше любили, прижимали к груди и объяснили с малолетства, что мир велик, история длинна, культура разнообразна, другой человек имеет право на жизнь, даже если у него другого цвета кожа, он ест другую еду, носит другую одежду и у него иные обычаи. Интересно же.”

If you’re interested in Ulitskaya’s book project, you can read the first four books in the series in English at the UNESCO site.


Welcome to the Working Group for Study of Russian Children’s Literature and Culture blog. My name is Kelly Herold (Grinnell College, Russian Department) and I am the blog administrator.

On this blog, you will find news about Russian children’s literature and culture, links to reviews, and announcements from the Working Group for Study of Russian Children’s Literature and Culture (WGRCLC).  We will be posting a few times per week, so check back often or put us in your blog reader.

If you are interested in blogging on Russian Children’s Literature and Culture on a regular basis, we welcome your participation.  Posts may be written in Russian or in English.  If you are interested in participating, please send me an e-mail.