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The Cuckoo

Region: Russian Far North 

Author: Folktales in English rendition and retelling by Miriam Morton

Original Language: assumed Samoyedic [assumed, given that the Nenets speak this language]

Translator: Irina Zheleznova 

Genre: Folktales

Descriptors: children; help; family; folktales; mothers and sons; parables; support 

Age: 5-10 years old


In this centuries-old folktale, a poor, hardworking mother had four unruly, disobedient sons who never helped or listened to her, only made more work for her. The hard life and endless, tiring work made the mother fall ill. Yet still, none of her sons cared for her, let alone thought of her. That is, until the four sons grew hungry and went expectantly to find their mother. Their mother, as they know her, is not what they find. Instead, a lesson is learned. While the translation of this folktale reads fluently, there are instances of unusual sentence structure, but the illustrations vividly accompany the story as it unfolds. 

More About This Book

The story is found in A Harvest of Russian Children's Literature (see notes below)  

Reviewed: print book (1967) by University of California Press. ISBN: 0520017455. Pages 133-135

Notes: The anthology was published several decades ago, in the times of the U.S.S.R. existence. Librarians relying on this source should treat classifications and notes in this story with care and an understanding of historical context. Nenets literature is not Russian literature, even if the Nenets live on the territory of the Russian federation. In this sense, the title of the Anthology is a misnomer. This classification is an outgrowth of the past soviet approach towards smaller ethnic and linguistic groups. This story also includes outdated footnotes: “Nenets are people of an ethnic group in the extreme northwestern area of the Soviet Union.” p.133; “The tundra is any of the vast, treeless plains of the arctic regions of the Soviet Union." p. 135. The Nenets are a Northern people living in the Russian Federation, primarily in the Northwest. The story is translated from Russian into English; it could have been originally translated from Samoyedic into Russian or recorded in Russian from oral renditions. It is to be noted that it could also have been adapted in the process and may not reflect the Nenets original exactly. The story is entered as a standalone item to bring North American children the magic of a world literature that has little international exposure. It is not entered under the Anthology title to correct the misrepresentation of Nenets literature as Russian literature. Librarians may consider retelling rather than reading the story to eliminate unusual terminology and culturally biased and outdated references.  

Reviewed by Tiffany Bowers

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