Before Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, many people elsewhere knew only a little about the country. Recent nonfiction and fiction books on Ukraine for Middle-Grade readers can help them understand what Ukrainians are fighting so fiercely to defend.
Most of these books appeared in 2022, and many of their publishers will contribute sales profits to Ukrainian relief.
Ukraine is known for the beautiful golden-domed architecture of its cities and the richness of its culture and language. It is also called “The Breadbasket of Europe” because other countries in Europe and the world depend on its abundant harvests of grain for food.
Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating Ukraine, by Ukrainian children’s author Oksana Lushchevska (Capstone Press, 2022), covers Ukraine’s history of withstanding invasion and domination by other countries, including Russia. Lusgchevska also aims to immerse young readers in the Ukrainian culture. There is one whole section on sunflowers, the national flower and symbol of Ukraine. She includes instructions on how to plant your own sunflower and a Ukrainian poem to recite while you water it! Ukrainian Easter eggs are world-famous, and she tells how to dye eggs with natural dyes. She’s even included a guide to learning the Ukrainian alphabet and some key phases. Bright photographs illustrate Blue Skies and Golden Fields.
More list-like is The Great Book of Ukraine: Interesting Stories, Ukranian History & Random Facts About Ukraine, by Anatolly Drahan (Independently published, 2022). Learn here not only about Ukraine’s past, but about pop culture, folklore, food, music, religion, celebrities & symbols, and why Ukranians celebrate two different New Years.
Ukrainian is one of the most lyrical languages in the world. Enjoy learning some of it from Ukrainian Picture Dictionary Coloring Book: Over 1500 Ukrainian Words and Phrases for Creative and Visual Learners of All Ages (Lingo Mastery 2022).
These four Middle-grade novels take place in other times of great conflict and invasion in Ukraine’s past. The situations the young characters must face are grim and terrifying. But these are stories of resilience, courage, and hope, the qualities most needed in war-torn Ukraine today.
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, by Erin Litteken (Boldwood Books, 2022), takes place in the 1930s, a time known as The Holodor, The Great Starvation. Russia’s Soviet ruler, Joseph Stalin, occupied Ukraine and tried to erase its culture. The Soviets claimed all grain produced in that fertile country and starved 4 million Ukrainians to death. In The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, 16-year old Katy at first sees village neighbors disappear for resisting the Soviets. Soon she herself is engaged in the struggle for survival. Author Litteken is the granddaughter a Ukrainian refugee from World War II.
Winterkill, by Canadian/Ukrainian author Marsha Forchuck Skrypuch (Scholastic, 2022), also takes place in the time of the Great Starvation. In this gripping story, young Nyl is struggling to stay alive. Alice, whose father has come from Canada to work for the Soviets, sees that what is happening to the people is terribly wrong. Nyl and Alice come up with a daring plan. Will they survive long enough to carry it out?
In April of 1986, the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, not far from Kyiv, melted down, poisoning the environment. In Helen Bates’ graphic novel, The Lost Child of Chernobyl (Otter Barry Books, 2021) two stubborn old ladies refuse to evacuate. Nine years later, forest wolves bring a ragged child to their door. The child has been living with the wolves in the forbidden toxic zone. Will the two be able to find his family after all this time?
In the suspenseful novel, The War Below, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (Scholastic, 2020), a Ukrainian boy smuggles himself out of a Nazi forced labor camp during World War II. He has to leave behind his dear friend Lida, but vows to find her again someday. IF he survives. Racing through the countryside, he struggles to evade both the Nazis and Soviet agents and finds himself in the line of fire.
Maya and Her Friends: A Story About Tolerance and Acceptance To Support the Children of Ukraine (Studio Press, 2023) takes place in 2017. In that year, Russia conquered Crimea and annexed it from Ukraine. They also temporarily occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. This is the story of families with children in Crimea, all with different family backgrounds. It shows how living under occupation and the shadow of war has impacted their lives. Ukrainian author Larysa Debysenk wrote this novel in Kyiv, with the roar of Russian gunfire in the background. She says, “I want to shout that the children of my country need international protection. The world needs to understand this.”
Yellow Butterfly: A story from Ukraine will come out from Red Comet Press in January, 2023. Without words, and using the yellow and blue symbolic colors of Ukraine, children’s book illustrator Oleksandr Shatokhin shows a young girl’s view of the military conflict: her fear, her anger and frustration, and finally her hope.
Let’s hope, too, that by the time these last two books appear, the fighting in Ukraine may be over and rebuilding can begin! Slava Ukrajini!