1930s children’s language book published in Canada returns to benefit Ukrainians

More than 80 years after it was first published, a school reader intended for the children of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada is finding a new place on bookshelves.

“The Little Book” is making a big impact, republished as a fundraising effort to aid the people of Ukraine.

It starts with the ABCs in Cyrillic, then short sentences and stories in Ukrainian.

In the 1930s and ’40s, as Ukrainian pioneers settled in communities across the prairies, The Little Book was a schoolroom staple, a way for the children of immigrants to connect to the language.

“My mother used to teach in a one-room schoolhouse near Edmonton,” Lorene Shyba told CTV National News. “So it was a way for Ukrainian-Canadian children to learn the language.”

Now Shyba, who works as a publisher with Durvile & Uproute Books in Millarville, Alberta, is using the old book to build a new link to Ukraine: she’s republishing a translated version of the text, with the proceeds from its sale to go to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation.

“This is a way I can contribute by creating a special humanitarian edition of the same book, this time with English translation,” Shyba said.

On the Durvile & Uproute Books website, Shyba explains that her mother and babka spoke fluent Ukrainian and would read to her from The Little Book when she was a child.

The original book first came out in 1932 in Ukraine, published by the Basilian Brothers in Zhovkva, near Lviv, but the company says the version that is being republished today is an updated version.

Her original goal was to raise $10,000 through the sale of the book to help displaced families in Ukraine.

In preorders alone, they hit that number before the new first edition was even printed.

By the end of April, at least 4,000 copies will be delivered to book stores, and there is an audio version with music and narration by Shyba’s cousin in Ukraine, who hails from the hard-hit city of Odessa.

“I have recorded his voice into the phone and the music and felt it by WhatsApp and I stitched it in with my own narration,” Shyba said.

The translation was sometimes a challenge because many of the written stories contained in the book are 80 to 90 years old or older, including poems from the legendary Ukrainian writer Taras Shevchenko.

Magda Stroinska is a linguist who volunteered to help translate The Little Book.

“I’m very proud,” she told CTV National News. “I’m very happy because I think this is something that stays. Something that reconnects generations.”

In Canada, where the Ukrainian diaspora is the third largest in the world, The Little Book is popular again, this time not only helping to celebrate the beauty and language of Ukraine, but helping civilians themselves as they suffer through war.

It can be ordered directly from the publisher, or through Indigo or Amazon.

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