|Robb's Rambling Reviews||
Ruth Robbins’ Baboushka and the Three Kings is a charmingly sweet retelling of the famous Russian Christmas tale. Combined with Nicolas Sidjakov’s simplistic yet captivating artwork, Robbins’ tale is full of style and language which makes the story seems new and innovative, although it is now almost sixty years old. Her eloquent use of language also assists her in creating moods of cozy winter evenings by the fire, or trudging through harsh and bitter snowstorms. With the use of sparse, yet meaningful, prose Robbins effectively encapsulates the true meaning of Christmas, and all that it entails.
Meshing perfectly with Robbin’s story, Sidjakov’s modest and unassuming artwork continues to further the books setting and character development. Cool blues mimic the cold Russian winter snowstorms, while warm yellows and reds warm the reader as we sit by the cook stove with Baboushka as she tidies her meager home on a cold winter night, unaware her life would soon be changed forever. His unassuming line drawings are reminiscent of Russian folk art, and also lend to the book’s feeling of simplicity.
Not only do the simple text and illustrations serve to further its theme of humbleness, but the very layout and design of the text assist as well. The books square design of seven inches not only fits nicely into the hands of a little one, it also serves to reiterate the diminutive size of our dear Baboushka, and the tiny child she will forever seek. The book’s less-is-more feeling matches nicely with Robbins’ wonderful story.
Baboushka was a well-known figure around my house growing up. As a child, my mother would wear a kerchief in her hair, and my sister and I would jokingly refer to her as Baboushka, only to have my mother roll her eyes and remind us that she was wearing a babushka, she wasn’t a Baboushka! Well, maybe it’s funnier when your eight years old. My mother’s parents spoke both Polish and Ukrainian, but unfortunately my mother and her siblings grew up in an era when you were expected to be American, forgetting your heritage in an effort to be part of the homogenous collective. As a result, my grandparents only spoke English in front of my family, (except for discussions about Christmas and birthday gifts, and other things little ones didn’t need to hear) so we lost much of our traditions, customs, and language from her family. This is why Baboushka puts a smile on my face and makes my heart a little lighter. Good memories tend to do that, don’t they? And what of the story and its message? In a world where crass commercialization has taken over the true meaning of Christmas, I find it uplifting and reassuring that somewhere, even in a small little unassuming children’s book, there will always remain the story of Baboushka, the Three Kings, and their quest to honor the Christ Child. It may be sixty years old, but Baboushka and the Three Kings has a story to tell which we need to hear today more than ever.
Despite its diminutive size, Baboushka and the Three Kings has a lot to say. With Ruth Robbins’ delicate, yet engaging text, Sidjakov’s understated illustrations, and a design and layout to match the charming words and pictures, we are given a true gift. A gift which has been entertaining readers for well over half a century, and a gift worth sharing with young and old readers alike. After all, isn’t that what the true message of Christmas is really all about?
Citation: Robbins, R. (1960). Baboushka and the three kings. Oakland, CA: Parnassus Press.