Russian History: Reading List Pre-K to Adult
Between the Sochi Olympics and Professor Carol’s upcoming Imperial Russian History course (UPDATE: now available through our Unlimited Access program), there has been an excitement growing around here for all things Russian history.
Imperial Russia is a place and time we rarely visit in our history studies. While all one has to do is open their eyes for five minutes to find great living literature on European or American history, it takes a bit of elbow grease to find it for non-Western cultures.
If you’re also interested in Russian history, we would like to share the following book list with you. The list is quite extensive — we encourage you to pick up one or two (or three!) the next time you’re at the library. This booklist starts with high school to adult titles and then progresses to younger books followed by films and music.
Consider creating a unit study for the entire family. Children can choose books at their reading level, Mom can share picture books with wee ones, teens can take the online class with Homeschool Connections, Dad can pick out a video to watch with the family (we’ve included a few movie and music titles at the end of the list below), and so on. This way, everyone is learning history together. It is easier (and more fun!) to learn the same era/culture as a family. It makes for interesting dinner conversations and debates in the car as you drive to and from the homeschool co-op.
Please know that we did not come up with this Russian reading list on our own. Friends, the editors at Love2Learn.net, the moms at The History Place, and Professor Carol herself all shared their favorite books with us so we could create this homeschool tool for you. We hope that you enjoy it and that it will prove beneficial to you and your children.
Living Literature List: Russian History and Culture
(click on titles for review/ordering information at Amazon)
High School to Adult
Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia by Suzanne Massie — Land of the Firebird is an utter delight. It is a sensible but visually attractive, affordable, readable, serious book. Around 1980, Suzanne’s Firebird and her then-husband Robert Massie’s Peter the Great were number 1 and 2 on the NY Times Best-Seller list.
Pavlovsk: The Life of A Russian Palace by Suzanne Massie — A close study of the Russian palace from Catherine the Great (18th Century) to the Revolution.
Biographies by Robert Massie:
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman — “[A] tale of power, perseverance, and passion … a great story in the hands of a master storyteller.” ~ WSJ
Peter the Great: His Life and World — “Massie’s Peter the Great is my favorite Russian history title–actually it is one of the best books I have ever read.” ~ Draper
Nicholas and Alexandra –Pulitzer Prize winner Massie tells the powerful story of the Romanovs’ lives.
The Romanovs: The Final Chapter — In 1991, nine skeletons were exhumed from a shallow mass grave near Ekaterinburg, Siberia. Where they the Romanovs?
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy — “Don’t be scared of the length. I absolutely loved it and blew through it because it was so engrossing.” ~ Tony
Peter the Great: the Reformer-Tsar by Douglas Liversidge (out of print)
Novels by Fyodor Dostoevsky:
Crime and Punishment — “… penetrating novel of an intellectual whose moral compass goes haywire, and the detective who hunts him down for his terrible crime, is a stunning psychological portrait, a thriller and a profound meditation on guilt and retribution.” ~ Amazon review
The Brothers Karamazov — “Heartily recommended to any reader who wishes to come as close to Dostoevsky’s Russian as it is possible.” ~ Joseph Frank, Princeton University
The Idiot — “After his great portrayal of a guilty man in Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky set out in The Idiot to portray a man of pure innocence.” ~ Amazon review
Pushkin: Death of a Poet by Walter N. Vickery (out of print)
Michael Strogoff by Jules Verne — Adventure novel that takes place in 19th Century Russia. Not the sci-fi that we’ve come to expect from Verne.
The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz — “It’s astounding on so many levels. First of all, they walked thousands of miles to get out of Siberia and, finally, to British India, and they weren’t exactly in the best of health when they started … There are such beautiful, Christian themes/examples, while also such cruelty and the desperation which can drive men to behave more like beasts towards one another.” ~Maria
My Russian Yesterdays by Catherine De Hueck Doherty — “No Catholic will want to miss this adventure in true Christian living.” ~ Catholic Home Journal
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn — Novel of political oppression in the Stalin-era Soviet Union.
The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn — The author’s hauntingly portrait of his own interrogation, imprisonment, and release during Stalin’s purges is a hard story to read, but it is a story like none other. If you can only pick one book, pick this one.
With God in Russia by Walter Ciszek with Daniel Flaherty — autobiography of an American Jesuit who spent twenty-three years in the Soviet Union, including fifteen in prison as a “spy of the Vatican.” Father Ciszek’s cause for sainthood is being investigated.
Middle School (or read aloud to grade school children)
Commodore Hornblower by C. S. Forrester — Part of the Horatio Hornblower series that takes place in Russia.
Catherine the Great (A World Landmark Book, No. 29) by Katherine Scherman — An in-depth look into Catherine the Great and 18th Century Russia.
Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan — Prequel to The Impossible Journey. Gives a peek into the Romanov household and the Russian Revolution.
The Impossible Journey by Gloria Whelan — Whelan’s books are enjoyable in print or audio. It is a moving story of two children searching for their parents who were sent to Siberia by Joseph Stalin.
Burying the Sun (St. Petersburg) by Gloria Whelan — It is 1941 Leningrad and the city is being bombed and blockaded by the Germans. Though they are surrounded by death and destruction, beauty is still found.
The Endless Step: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig — A family is arrested (1941) and sent to Siberia for being capitalists and “enemies of the state”.
Favorite Russian Fairytales told by Arthur Ransome — Inexpensive collections of six classic Russian tales.
Peter Tchaikovsky (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers) by Mike Venezia — This is a favorite series. While the illustrations are cartoonish, children do find them, and the text, engaging.
Peter the Great by Diane Stanley — Great illustrations on every page. The scholarship isn’t perfect, but then it is a grade school book.
The Magic Gold Fish: A Russian Folktale by Demi — Based on Pushkin’s retelling of this classic tale of virtue rewarded and greediness punished.
Luba and the Wren by Patricia Pollaco — Like The Magic Gold Fish, this is a version of The Fisherman and His Wife, promoting simplicity while demonstrating the evil of greed.
The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale told by Arthur Ransome and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz — “When the Czar proclaims that he will marry his daughter to the man who brings him a flying ship, the Fool of the World sets out to try his luck and meets some unusual companions on the way.”
Tales from Atop a Russian Stove by Janet Higonnet-Schnopper (out of print)
Rechenka’s Egg by Patrica Polacco — Old Babushka takes in an injured goose, Rechenka, who shows her that miracles really do happen. Beautiful illustrations of Ukrainian painted eggs throughout.
The Wolfhound by Kristine Franklin and illustrated by Kris Waldherr — Beautifully illustrated story of a boy and a hound in Tsarist Russia.
The Miracle of St. Nicholas written by Gloria Whelan and illustrated by Judith Brown — Sixty years after the Communists have shut down their church, the towns people witness a Christmas miracle. Make sure to have a box of Kleenex nearby as you read this to your children.
With God in Russia: The True Story of Father Walter Ciszek — Based on Father Ciszek’s autobiography (listed above). Details his time in the prison camps and how he helped bring about a resurgence of Catholicism in Russia.
Martin the Cobbler — A heartwarming claymation film for children. Based on Tolstoy’s short story Where Love is, God is.
Michael the Visitor — Another heartwarming claymation film for children. This one is based on Tolstoy’s What Men Live By.
Fiddler on the Roof — Adaptation of the Broadway musical set in the Ukranian ghetto village of Anatevka in 1905.
Russian, Land of the Tsars — Documentary from A&E. Warning: Contains adult material so preview first.
Andrei Rubliev (Criterion Collection) — Andrei Tarkovski’s 1966 film about the 15th Century Russian icon painter.
Tchaikovsky Discovers America (Classical Kids Series) — This series introduces children to the great composers. This is the story of Tchikovsky’s 1891 visit to the United States.
Peter and the Wolf –“This piece has always particularly delighted children … and me, too.”~ Maria
The Nutcracker — A classic Russian ballet. See this live if possible. It can usually be found locally around Christmas time.
Night on Bald Mountain by Rimsky-Korsakov — There’s a cartoon segment in Disney’s Fantasia movie (1940) put to this music.