Russia, a country with a rich and often complicated history and whose people have experienced much. Revolution, political change, the Cuban Missile Crisis, communism, the Iron Curtain, ballet, War and Peace, The Cold War. These are just some of the things that come to mind when we think of Russia and many of them can be associated with the twentieth century.
In creating a book about a country with such a complicated past a clear approach is necessary and Alexandra Litvina and Anna Desnitskaya have produced something rather special, and those who take the time to explore their book will be richly rewarded. The approach is clever, take a fictional family whose generations have lived in the same apartment for the entire century and explore how their lives and experiences changed throughout the years as a result of political change within Russia and global events.
We first meet the Muromtsev’s in 1902 as the family move into their new home, a spacious apartment with several rooms. Over the years, things change and the family apartment becomes a communal living space for more families - each occupying a single room and sharing the kitchen and bathroom. As people come and go, the one constant in the apartment is the Muromtsev family which grows over the years as children become parents and parents become grandparents.
The family live through everything - regularly facing hardships and shortages of essentials. They experience the joys of weddings and celebrations to the sorrows of war and deaths. The excitement at advancements in technology and sending a man into space to the fear of arrests and the threat of nuclear war. No matter what though, a tight-knit family bond and the sense of community remains strong throughout. All of these events, emotions and the ripples felt by the family are explored in detail through personal accounts and pages that are packed with information and illustrations - the authors have used every space available.
The over-sized book is exceptionally well produced. The book begins with a family tree that is very much necessary and I found myself constantly referring back to it as I did find the number of people introduced into the apartment confusing at times. The double page spreads are a wonderful mixture. Cutaways show the apartment down to the tiniest of details giving readers a clear view of the living situation and annotations identify the different inhabitants. There is so much to see within the apartment and a search-and-find activity challenges readers to spot hundreds of different objects throughout the book.
Pages detailing the political and historical landscaped are packed with annotations and with objects from the times. News clippings, poems, letters, notes, song lyrics and signs in Russian sit alongside children’s toys, clothing, food, technology, people with speech bubble conversations, money and trinkets. These pages really given an insight into what life was like and what was available to the people of Russia at different periods in history.
Pages with stories from the children who are living in the apartment have a wonderful narrative like quality to them as they share moments from different times. The book ends with a portrait gallery that identifies neighbours and friends of the Muromtsev’s, a timeline, bibliography, glossary and index.
This book offers so much that it may overwhelm many children but I fell in love with it. I travelled through Russia in 2015 and was fortunate to spend an evening in such an apartment drinking tea and feasting on a never ending stack of pancakes. I met the most wonderful of families who lived in a single room and shared a kitchen and bathroom. So much of this book resonated with their life and the stories that they shared with me.
Intuitive, creative and accessible. A superbly presented and incredibly informative introduction to Russia and its fascinating history.
Recommended for 9+.