Review: Others. Other. Otherwise: Ludmila Ulitskaia’s Children’s Book Series

Others. Other. Otherwise: Ludmila Ulitskaia’s Children’s Book Series (1)

Ludmila Ulitskaia began publishing her book series for children–Other, Others, Otherwise–in 2006 to promote understanding of and tolerance towards other people and cultures. A collaborative project, Other, Others, Otherwise [Другой, другие, о других] is sponsored by the Institute of Tolerance, founded in 2003, and two major Russian publishing houses, Eksmo and Rudomino. Twenty books, each written by an author invited by Ulitskaia herself, will complete the series, which is intended for readers between 11 and 15 years of age.

To date, Eksmo has published twelve books:

Вера Тименчик. Семья у нас и у других (2006);
Анастасия Гостева. Большой взрыв черепахи (2006);
Раиса Кирсанова. Путешествие по чужим столам (2006);
Раиса Кирсанова. Ленты, кружева, ботинки (2006);
Арина Бутовская. О дохлой кошке и живых котятах (2008);
Лариса Винник. Я не виноват (2008);
Андрей Усачев. Всеобщая декларация цчеловека в пересказе для детей и взрослых (2008);
Анастасия Гостева. Дух дома дома? (2008);
Наталья Борисова. Про про профессии (2008);
Константин Скрипкин. ВИЧ и СПИД. Что с этим делать? (2009);
Антон Березин. История с деньгами, или детям до 16 путешествовать по времени разрешается (2010);
Ирина Ясина. Человек с человеческими возможностями (2010).


Ulitskaia’s series takes young readers away from the world of high fantasy that dominates contemporary Russian children’s literature back to history and real life. Central to her agenda are such social issues as diversity, tolerance, and understanding of the “other.” Ulitskaia argues that since Russian people live in a multi-national state, it is time for them to acknowledge that “different nationalities have cultural traditions strikingly different from what we consider ‘normal’ or ‘correct.’” [i] Otherwise, says Ulitskaia, the state of Russian society will remain “horrific” because the majority of people refuse to take responsibility for the “brutal minors with wooden brains” who murder “black students, Chinese vendors, and Tadzhik girls” in the public places of big Russian cities. [ii] The responsibility for these murders, Ulitskaia argues, is collective, and she hopes her books will help overcome “misunderstanding, irritation, hostility, and even hatred” of the “other,” of the people who are not enemies, but not “like us” either (Pisatel’, 12). Moreover, says Ulitskaia, it is time to realize that Russian authorities manipulate the concept of “the other” (the oligarchs, people from the Caucasus, or migrants) to create scapegoats for the country’s mounting economic and social problems.


Undoubtedly, Ulitskaia’s series makes children think about the contradictions, ambiguities, and complexities of human life. Some books in the series may seem challenging and even shocking but they all provide a lesson in diversity and frequently bring up issues that traditionally have been reserved for adults.


Reviewed by Larissa Rudova


[i] Anton Zhelnov. Interview with Ludmila Ulitskaia: “Drugie—ne chuzhie,” Vedomosti 150 (August 15, 2006): n.p..
[ii] “Pisatel’ Liudmila Ulitskaia: ‘Nashi knigi o cheloveke, kotoryi ne takov, kak vy.’” Izvestiia 106 (June 19, 2006): 12.

Review: Children’s World: Growing Up in Russia,1890-1991,  by Catriona Kelly. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007.

Children’s World: Growing Up in Russia,1890-1991,  by Catriona Kelly.
New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007.


Catriona Kelly’s monumental account of Russian childhood demonstrates how the prevailing values about modernization and education shaped the childhood experiences of those who were born and raised between 1890 and 1991. The book explores how the Bolsheviks’ utopian dream of creating an efficient system of pre-school, primary, and secondary schooling determined the manifestations of Soviet children’s public and private lives that were often influenced by prescriptive literature and the media. The book examines the success story related to the high standards of literacy achieved during the Soviet period, and gives a detailed account of children’s lives in institutions, orphanages, and Stalin-era camps, highlighting the shortcomings of the notion of rational education based on the utopian impulse to bring about the rapid modernization of Russian society. Kelly’s study offers numerous illustrations of how the legacy of the Enlightenment in Soviet Russia led to the exclusion from the curriculum of any religious and pagan forms of thought, including suppression in the 1920s–1930s of fairy tales and many popular pre-Revolutionary books. Kelly suggests that the Bolsheviks inherited an inadequate system of education, along with Western ideas on child development, that were incorporated into the project of an accelerated childhood subordinated to the concerns of the cultural elite and its rationalistic vision of social engineering. Kelly’s study outlines briefly the impact on Soviet education of the policies and ideological beliefs of such well-known figures as Nadezhda Krupskaya, Maksim Gorky, Anton Makarenko, and Vasily Sukhomlinsky. The book pays tribute to Soviet children’s literature, focusing on such writers as Samuil Marshak, Korney Chukovsky, Aleksey Tolstoy, and Arkady Gaidar, and explores themes and values articulated in Soviet films, radio programmes, and plays.


Kelly’s book contains three parts: ‘Imagining Childhood’, ‘Children on their Own: Street Waifs, Orphanage Inmates’, and ‘Family Children’. It covers much ground on such topics as the representation of childhood in Russian books and media; the ideological concerns of Soviet education; the relationship between adults and children; prevailing ideas about childhood and parenting; children’s leisure and sport activities; the experience of mothers; social and health institutions, including childbirth services and provision for abandoned children and orphans; children’s rights; and special emphasis on children’s creativity and high literacy standards. In a well-balanced manner, Kelly assesses the move from very low literacy levels to a respectable position among the developed countries and convincingly demonstrates that the policy of an expanded education system gave most children wide access to sports and the arts. Kelly’s encompassing study will be of immense interest to a wide range of readers, including social historians, anthropologists, cultural studies specialists, and anyone seeking to understand the effects of a Soviet childhood and the problem of trying to generalize about the diversity of educational practices.

Reviewed by Alexandra Smith, University of Edinburgh

Review: Vera Timenchik, Семья у нас и у других (2006)

Social Issues in Ludmila Ulitskaia’s Children’s Book Series: Family (2)

families_2007Vera Timenchik’s book, Семья у нас и у других (2006) conveys liberal sensibilities and openly discusses questions that until recently were never raised in Russian schools: xenophobia, school bullying, war in the Caucasus, ethnic intolerance, divorce, homosexual marriage, and marital age. Timenchik centers the book’s plot on two 12-year old friends: Kirill is a native Russian born in Moscow; Daut is a recent immigrant from Abkhazia, an area in the Caucasus. Kirill’s family is small and liberal; Daut’s family is, on the contrary, large and patriarchal. Yet, despite their differences, the Kirill and Daut become friends and learn to accept each other’s differences.


Семья у нас и у других challenges the traditional concept of “we” vs. the “other” as she discusses the issue of “normalcy” in marriage practices. From Kirill’s mother, the boys learn that in some European countries, marriage between people of the same sex is legal and that in some liberal democracies, including the US, gay couples can adopt children. This is perhaps the first Russian children’s book in which homosexuality is mentioned at all and in which gays are not treated as the criminal “other.” What is also interesting in this discussion of gay marriage is that Kirill’s mother does not tell the boys what’s right and what’s wrong with sexual practices but rather presents other practices as alternatives.


Timenchik rejects a monological authorial solution of controversial issues, as is usually the case in educational children’s literature, but rather lets her readers know that mainstream culture is not the only one and that there are many marginal or marginalized cultures that should not be suppressed or neglected. Timenchik offers her young readers not answers but choices and makes them think about diversity and ways of dealing with it. The book warns, however, that challenging cultural stereotypes often goes hand-in-hand with struggle or conflict.


Reviewed by Larissa Rudova

Review: Andrei Usachev’s The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Retold for Children and Adults (2008)

Social Issues in Ludmila Ulitskaia’s Children’s Book Series: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (3)

Andrei Usachev’s The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Retold for Children and Adults (2008) is a marvelous fairy tale about a Little Man who lives in a little house with a little garden. One day the Little Man discovers The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the public library, reads it, and from that moment on, realizes that there is nothing wrong with his being little. This discovery changes his life and gradually, he begins to change the lives of others by telling them about their universal rights regardless of their differences. They may be big, small, green, red, fat, illiterate, poor, men or women, but they are all equal, and once they realize that, they can become friends and change the world for the better.


Post-Soviet society has been described as “passive, atomized, and unprotected from its own state.” [i] It is a society in which the “basic trust” in oneself and others has been destroyed and solidarity is almost impossible. Who to accept? Who to reject? Which cultural, social, or political practices to follow? These and many other questions are unanswered still for the majority of Russian children and adults. In the atmosphere of a continuing cultural and social identity crisis, Ulitskaia’s series comes as a great facilitator for understanding the need for trust, cultural integration, diversity, solidarity, and other virtues of a socially progressive state. All the books in Ulitskaia’s series, regardless of their topic, send one message: “Although people are not alike, they should recognize their differences and learn not to fear them.”

Reviewed by Larissa Rudova

[i] “Sotsiologiia homo post-soveticu’s?” Conference paper. Ziegmund Freud University, Vienna. 19-22 March, 2009.

New Issue of PMLA

This just in from Larissa Rudova:

The new issue of PMLA (Vol. 126, No. 1) has a section devoted to the study of children’s literature.  Larissa writes,  “The section “Theories and Methodologies” (pp. 152-216) in the fresh PMLA issue (January 2011) is dedicated to children’s literature and includes such articles as, for example, “Queer Theory’s Child and Children’s Literature Studies” (Kenneth Kidd); “Comparative Children’s Literature” (Emer O’Sullivan); “Goodbye, Ghetto: Further Comparative Approaches to Children’s literature” (Kiera Vaclavik); “On Not Defining Children’s Literature” (Marah Gubar).”