I feel slightly ridiculous writing a blog post that will potentially only interest a handful of people, but I decided it was time for another From My Bookshelf to Yours post. Given that my entire world has lately been focused on a certain adorable baby, the category for these particular books was quite obvious: Lithuanian Children’s Books.
The second Vincas and I started talking about having kids, we knew there wasn’t a doubt in our minds that we wanted to try to teach them to speak Lithuanian.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but neither Vincas nor I was born in Lithuania. Nor were any of our parents. All of our grandparents were the ones to come over to America, some during and others immediately following World War II. Our grandparents all left Lithuania to avoid being killed or sent to Siberia by the Soviets, which was the fate of most of the Intellectual class (aka: the doctors, the professors, the lawyers, etc). Nobody actually thought that the Soviets would remain in control for very long, however. When they left, they did so utterly convinced that they’d be back soon. As a result, their immigration into the United States took on a very different tone than those immigrants from other countries who came over with the primary intention of finding a better life. While many of those Italians/Irish/Germans/fill-in-the-blanks immediately did all they could to assimilate into American culture (which often included not teaching their children their native language so they wouldn’t sound like foreigners), this particular wave of Lithuanian immigrants did the exact opposite. They taught their children to speak Lithuanian, sent them to Saturday Lithuanian schools and Lithuanian summer camps, and built up an entire community of tight-knit Lithuanians. When that generation grew up and got married (many of them to other Lithuanians), they sent their children to Lithuanian camps and Lithuanian schools. My parents were one of the few who decided to move away from all of it, to Florida (which was at that time a land-of-few-Lithuanians). Despite leaving the Lithuanian community, they still did their best to teach me and my siblings how to speak Lithuanian. Vinco family, however, stayed around Chicago, meaning he grew up around a massive, Lithuanian-speaking, extended family and spent every summer at Lithuanian camp. Long story short: this is why both Vincas and I speak the language, despite being third generation Lithuanians.
My point in retelling that family history is that both Vincas and I really value our heritage. Is Lithuanian as handy of a language to know in our current culture as other possible languages? No. But speaking a second language is always an incredibly valuable skill and I can’t imagine not including our children in that shared history. Vincas speaks Lithuanian better than I do, since he grew up surrounded by Lithuanians. The only other Lithuanian speakers I saw frequently throughout my childhood were my immediate family members, although later in life I met an amazing group of Lithuanian friends who have become like family.
When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately began planning how I’d improve my language in order to teach my children.
Besides beginning to *try* to exclusively speak Lithuanian at home (Vincas and I have been doing much better at this recently! We now flip back and forth between solid chunks of Lithuanian conversation – usually in the morning and at dinner – and English conversation when we’re tired or in a hurry). I’ve also been learning to sing some of the old children’s songs I vaguely remember, but never knew the words to. Most importantly, however, I’m religiously reading to Povi in Lithuanian. Yes, I plant my tiny fourteen-week-old down on a quilt and read to him. Does he understand the words? Not yet. But he loves hearing me read!
Which leads me to the point of this post…
5 of my favorite Lithuanian children’s books
- Grybū Karas (War of the Mushrooms), by Justinas Marcinkevičius. This is one of my favorite Lithuanian books and I vividly remember staring at all the funny illustrations as a little kid while my mom read it out loud to us. This fantastically epic poem describes a great big war between mushrooms, which begins when the wife of one of the biggest mushrooms demands that her husband go to war and bring her back a silk scarf. In the end, all the mushrooms are (to their horror) gathered up by mushroom pickers and their tops cut off. It’s a little bit graphic, in the way that all the best children’s tales are, and Vincas read it for the first time a few days ago and gave me a horrified, “Why do you like this book!?” When my older sister, Viktorija, was about four years old, she actually memorized the entire book (which is 19 pages long without the illustrations, with each page having anywhere from three to six short stanzas). She recited it perfectly to an audience of my grandmother’s Lithuanian friends, one of whom accused my mom of somehow holding up cheat cards for her to read. My dad had to inform them that she didn’t actually know how to read yet…
- Meškiukas Rudnosiukas (Little Brown-Nosed Bear), by Vytė Nemunėlis. “Tėn miške, kur eglės ošia, Po pušim sena, sena…” (“In the woods, where the fir trees sigh, under the old, old pine tree…”) The beginning of this adorable story instantly makes me think of home and cozy nights. The book is all about a family of brown-nosed bears. There’s Mama Brown-nose, Papa Brown-nose, and a little Baby Brown-nose. In rhyming prose, the reader learns all about how Papa Brown-nose boasts about his honey-stealing skills, but then gets stung all over by bees. Then Baby Brown-nose doesn’t listen to his Mama and gets lost in the woods. As you might imagine, the stories aren’t complex – but the illustrations are beautiful and the words fun to read. Or sing! Vincas recently chided me for merely reading the words aloud. Apparently there’s a tune you’re supposed to sing the words to, but I never learned it! I’ll have to ask my sister-in-laws to send me a recording so that I could pick it up. Fun little fact: my favorite childhood stuffed animal, a gray bunny, was named Kiškis Biškis, which is the name of one of the characters in this book.
- Zuikis Puikis (the closest translation would be something like Rabbit Babbit), by E Mieželaitis. This book seems like a companion to the book above, although it’s written and illustrated by different people. Instead of centering around a family of bears, however, this book is all about a little bunny rabbit named Zuikis Puikis. I believe there are a few books about him, but in this particular story he unintentionally skips his first day of school by playing and lingering on his walk. He ends up napping, eating delicious greenery, and dancing with a fox he meets along the way. Of course, at the end of the book, he learns his lesson by flunking his lessons and then redoubling his efforts so that he could earn a good grade and make his parents proud. Ah, morality tales…
- Laikrodis Be Gegutės by Ramute Skučaitė. I only remember a few of these poems from childhood (specifically the one with an illustration of a witch on her broomstick, because how fascinatingly scary is that to a kid, haha), but I recently picked it up and discovered that I really love some of the poems in it. The first one I read aloud to Povi is all about a game of chess. The words slip and slide together in a riddle-like fashion and the rhyming creates a soothing cadence, which is fun for reading aloud. I also enjoy all the slightly abstract illustrations that accompany the poems. I’ve said this before, but to me, a children’s book is only as good as its illustrations!
- Visi Ka Nors Turi by Violeta Palčinskaitė. Going off that last sentence, sometimes a book can have really simple words (aka: boring words), but the illustrations are so delightful that you don’t mind opening the book again and again. While I’ve joked that these animals look a liiitle bit high, they’re still pretty darn cute. And how cute are those glow worms in the fox’s den?
There you go! Five books you should definitely find if you’re planning on teaching your child Lithuanian. <3