Tag Archives: Ivan Bilibin

I is for Ivan (Bilibin. We’re on a first name basis.)

Illustration by Ivan Bilibin for The White Duck.

Illustration by Ivan Bilibin for The White Duck.

When I’m telling Russian folktales, Vasilisa steps into the theatre of my mind wearing a richly embroidered sarafan. Ivan Tsarevich, in caftan and pointy-toed boots, proudly rides the grey wolf through a fir forest to an onion-domed palace. Baba Yaga’s log hut on chicken legs boasts a steep thatched roof with colorfully stenciled eaves and window frames. Even barefoot Ivanushka wears his Kosovorotka, his side-buttoned shirt. For me, that rich imagery came from the brush of Ivan Bilibin. A costume and set designer as well as an artist, he created the theater my skazki protagonists play on.

I hope you have an edition of Russian Wonder Tales illustrated by my friend Ivan (!) in your library. His  art has been used in such collections for over a century!

Afansyev, Alexander, Russian Fairy Tales, translated by Post Wheeler and illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. The Planet, 2012 (paperback).

Avery, Gillian, Russian Fairy Tales, illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. Everyman’s Library Children’s Classics, 1995.

Bilibin, Ivan IAkovlevich Bilibin, Ivan Bilibin. Aurora Art Publishers, 1982. (Note: This is an expensive art book!)

In the 1970s, the Russian Ministry of Finance commissioned Goznak Press in Moscow to print a series of Russian fairy tales with Afans’ev’s text and Bilibin’s illustrations in beautiful, large format booklets on heavy paper. You can almost always find the books in Russian or English on ebay for $10-$20. Look for the Frog Princess, Sister Alyonushka and Brother Ivanushka and The White Duck (together in one book), Marya Morevna, Fenist the Falcon, and The Tale of Tsarevich Ivan, the Fire-Bird and Grey Wolf.

B is for Baba Yaga


Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

Who does not love this delicious, wild sorceress of the Skazki, Russian fairy tales? Riding in her mortar, steering with her pestle, sweeping away her trail with a broom, she lands by her gate of human bones and commands her house on chicken feet, “Little Hut, Little Hut! Turn the way thy mother taught thee, with thy back to the forest and thy face toward me.”

She drives a hard bargain but lives up to her part, however grudgingly. When guests such as Vasilisa or Tsarevich Ivan pass her harsh tests, they earn the needed horse or bird or fire.

Do you have Baba Yaga stories in your library? Take a look at these:

Avery, Gillian, Russian Fairy Tales , with illustrations by Ivan Bilibin. (Borzoi/Alfred A Knopf, Inc., 1995).

Johns, Andreas, Baba Yaga The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale (Peter Lang, 2004).

Meyer, Marianna, Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave (HarperCollins 1994).

One last thing:
Q: How do you pronounce her name?
A: If you’re a true child of Russia, baba yaGAH