THE STORY OF BABUSHKA
Written by Catherine Flores
Illustrated by Ana Beatriz Marques
ACL Creative Studio 7/29/2020
98 Pages Age 8+
. . . .DEBUT
Genre: Middle Grade Picture Book, Fiction
Themes: Meaning of Life, Purpose, Russian Nesting Dolls
Babushka decides she wants to find out the meaning of life, so she sends her bodies out of the forest and into the world to search for answers. But there is a challenge to overcome before all of the bodies can reunite and return to the forest together. (from back cover)
“In the light-flooded forest, where the birds sang, the brook rippled, and the wind swept through the trees, there lived a beautiful matryoshka called Babushka.
“ Babushka had many admirable features and was very popular among the inhabitants of the forest.
“Babushka had five bodies nested inside of each other, and each body had something unique and special about it.”
Why I like The Story of Babushka
Before The Story of Babushka begins, there is an introduction to Russian nesting dolls, also known as matryoshkas, and often simply called Babushka. For this story, Babushka has four dolls nestled inside for a total of five bodies. Each body has a name and a special quality. When all those qualities are nestled Babushka is a special person with marvelous qualities. She is beautiful, rich, talented, wise, and possesses a loving heart. These are Babushka’s nestled dolls/bodies (from outermost to innermost):
The Story of Babushka is about Babushka wondering, almost troubled by not knowing the meaning of her life (why she is here), and she wants to know what her purpose is in the world. Everyone seems to have a purpose, usually related to their talents, skills, beliefs, and other important qualities. Teachers might say their purpose is to educate young minds; writers to entertain kids with relatable stories; and a mother to raise her children to be an honorable, loving and trusted individuals with their own purpose in life. Babushka isn’t sure what her purpose is. She knows she is beautiful, rich, talented, wise, and loving.
Mary, Babushka’s innermost body, is the inner voice who gives Babushka sound advice. With her help, Babushka decides her bodies need to find their purposes and live them. Soon beautiful Antonia leaves with a handsome man who loves her for her beauty. Loretta uses her wealth to help a flooded village rebuild. Paula answers a call for help in the city, deciding her talents would be helpful. And Viola wants to capture their life with a camera, but must invent something of value to trade for one. With her wisdom, she goes to The City of Invention.
With Antonia, Loretta, Paula, and Viola each pursuing their purpose in life, only Mary remains at home in the forest. She soon becomes lonely, and, with the wind’s advice, “Go. It’s time to leave.” Mary wanders out of the forest, not knowing where she is going, but when unsure, the wind directs her this way or that.
In time, Mary runs into Antonia, Loretta, Paula, and Viola. All accomplished their goals, but now they are all unhappy. Their lives took turns they never expected and now they just want to return to their home in the forest and nestle. In the end, Babushka learns several lessons about the meaning of life and one’s purpose in it.
At some point, everyone wonders what their purpose is and what life means. Each of us will arrive at our own answers, depending on our qualities and how we honor those qualities. There is no one rule to these questions. Your answers depend on your talents, beliefs, wisdom, and resources. Babushka is blessed with five wonderful qualities that allow her to be and do most anything she pleases, yet she is still confused as to her role in life. Sending her five bodies out to find and individually live their own purpose was altruistic and worked well, for a while. Without the rest of her bodies to help guide her, Antonia, Viola, Paula, Loretta, and even Mary find themselves unhappy with the life each chose to live. Only when Babushka is whole does she become happy with herself and her life.
Kids will wonder, “How does this story relate to me?” I wonder this myself. We do not have four additional bodies nestled inside us that can be individualized and sent on their own way. We do have goals and activities we can consider different parts of ourselves. A middle grade age boy is a student, a son, and a brother. He might also play the trumpet in his school’s band, or a shortstop on a baseball team. Mom and Dad have jobs, a family, an extended family, and interests of their own. Each of those parts need our talents, beliefs, wisdom, and resources to be successful. Our mental lives depend on our physical life and vice versa. Dividing ourselves is nearly impossible. What we do each day is like a stone thrown into a pond. It causes ripples that reach the other parts of ourselves and those around us.
Babushka tries to separate herself and ends up five times unhappy. She needs all of her five bodies (her five parts) to live a happy life. Antonia is beautiful, but without Mary she has no inner voice to help her throughout her day. Without Loretta’s wealth she could not help her husband, who works nearly all day long. When Paula finds herself trapped, without Viola’s wisdom, she cannot think how to get out of her situation. Mary’s inner voice is the only body strong enough to restore Babushka. She can speak wisdom to all the other bodies, and to those people involved in their new lives. Mary, as the inner voice, must have some of Viola’s wisdom and Paula’s talent to bring Babushka whole and also help others, such as the industrial city workers. This is never explained but it must be so, else Mary would not have been able to unite the workers in a strike for fair working conditions.
The Story of Babushka is beautifully written, with few unnecessary words, making the story a fast read. There are twelve short chapters parents can read as a bedtime story. The illustrations are beautiful and help readers visualize the written story. The art never tells the story its way, as in most picture books. As a whole, The Story of Babushka is a wonderful treat into an aspect of Russian folklore. The Introduction is well-researched and easy to understand. Yet, there is one section of vast importance missing in this elegant story: discussion questions.
Kids need these questions to help them relate the story to their own life. Teachers need them to do the same for her students and to begin a well-rounded discussion regarding the author’s intentions in writing The Story of Babushka. Not all stories need discussion questions. The Story of Babushka is very philosophical and may not register with the typical middle grade reader. When trying to relate Babushka’s five bodies to themselves, kids may not be able to integrate the story’s moral to themselves (and their one body). The Story of Babushka becomes an interesting folklore and not the life-enriching story (I believe), the author intended to write.
Catherine Flores has put her heart and soul into The Story of Babushka and (I believe), wants it to have meaning to all readers. For this to happen, discussion questions, or fleshed out chapters showing what happens during each body’s life of purpose. Each body’s journey would be a story in itself, and a middle grade novel has room to flesh out these stories. I was anxious to learn about the City of Invention and how Viola would gain entrance, proving herself worthy of inventing herself. Did she ever trade for the camera and why or why not? How did the unfair treatment Paula received in the city of industry make her ill? For what job did the man want three workers? There are so many unanswered questions Mary could not answer. We know each body ended up unhappy and do not find happiness until Babushka is once more whole. Is happiness the purpose of life?
The Story of Babushka could become an excellent story-in-a-story. With Ms. Flores abilities as an author, a fleshed-out version will vastly entertain middle grade readers, and the expanded story has the room to relate Babushka’s life onto the life of those who read her story. Without relating Babushka’s journeys for a real purpose and meaning of life, The Story of Babushka remains another folktale. With her excellent writing behind it, Catherine Flores’ The Story of Babushka, could become a life-changing story for all who read it.
There is no backmatter. Since the author is dealing with such philosophically abstract concepts, questions for kids to answer could help them understand the story and the author’s ideas. Questions not only enlighten they can add to a child’s knowledge.
Learn more about Catherine Flores and The Story of Babushka at this enchanting website: http://www.thestoryofbabushka.com/
Available at Amazon: The Story of Babushka
THE STORY OF BABUSHKA. Text Copyright © 2020 by Catherine Flores. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Ana Beatriz Marques. Published by ACL Creative Studio.
Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
[1357-word count—review only]
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Pet-Peeve: Please write a book with indents, like a book should be written. That is, not like an online post with space between paragraphs.
NEXT UP: PB – The Hat Shop by Sally Cox & Marie Wilkinson – Pegasus Books
AND THEN: MG – Believe by Julie Mathison – Starr Creek Press