When I was younger, I wanted to learn Ukrainian from my family. My grandfather had a copy of Буквар, the 1964 Ukrainian reader that my dad and my aunts learned from. Unfortunately, it was only in Ukrainian, and so not very accessible to someone who only knew English (without a willing translator). So I was very excited to discover Перша Книжечка, The Little Book, at the library. Перша Книжечка (transliterated “per-sha k-nee-zh-ech-ka,” which, I think, is more accurately translated as “The First Little Book” or “The First Booklet”), is a reprinting of the 1932 edition of this Ukrainian reader. It has many of the same stories and very similar illustrations from my family’s copy of Буквар with one major exception: it includes English translations of the verses as well!
To make room for the English translations, some of the Ukrainian texts were cut from the book, but Magda Stroinska, PhD, and Volodymyr Shyba, the translators, made sure to include links within the book to the Ukrainian versions of those missing texts. Unfortunately I noticed that there are a few other accidental omissions, like the verse for “ш Ш” on page 40 cuts off the tail end of the Ukrainian – it ends in the middle of a sentence, while the English translation of that verse concludes properly.
While the book is aimed primarily at children, it’s also accessible to adults who are interested in learning Ukrainian. The book starts with really basic vocabulary, which is helpful because Ukrainian is very different from English. Along with building some basic vocabulary, Перша Книжечка introduces you to some culturally relevant terms, like the Cossacks, and important people, like Taras Shevchenko, a famous Ukrainian poet. Перша Книжечка was created primarily for Ukrainian-Canadian children living in the Prairies, so some of the verses even mention Canadian cities. The illustrations by O. Kurelas are also very charming, and really add to the book, giving you a sense of place.
One other great thing about this reprint of Перша Книжечка is that it’s the Special Humanitarian Edition 2022, so proceeds are going to the Canada Ukraine Foundation, helping Ukrainians displaced by the war.
Перша Книжечка is such a fantastic little book – I wish it had been available years ago to help me learn Ukrainian!