Who writes about Stalin and communism for kids?

Like most of you, I’ve been watching the Olympic coverage from Sochi. Along with the commentary about the Olympic athletes, I’ve also heard snippets of history – some of it accurate, some of it not. One particular comment from an NBC commentator who referred to decades of Soviet communism as a “pivotal experiment” astounded me. 

We know about Hitler and the horrors of the Holocaust.

But what about Stalin and his crimes against humanity? He ruled the Soviet Union for thirty brutal and bloody years. Where are the stories about the millions of people who died during his rule and World War II? Where are the stories about life behind the Iron Curtain?

Stalin said, “No people. No problem.”

No people means no stories. No memories. 

Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.” For most of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union was the “winner.” For five decades the Iron Curtain limited communication between the West and the Eastern Bloc countries. Letters were censored, and people were afraid to tell their stories.

As the child of immigrant parents from Estonia, I grew up hearing about arrests, deportations, imprisonments in labour camps, and other grim events. At that time, there was virtually nothing written about these events. So many years later, I wrote the book I wanted to read as a teenager (The Darkest Corner of the World), and continue to write about little-known events.

I was curious to find out how many other Canadian authors write about Stalin and communism in the former Soviet Union for a younger audience. (The former USSR included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrquyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan)

I polled authors from CANSCAIP and SCBWI Canada East and Canada West.

Not many. Far too few. There are still so many stories to tell.

Here is the list of Canadian Kidlit authors, and their books set in the former USSR countries, as well as books about Russian history. If you know of any books I’ve missed, I’d love to add them to the list.


Marsha Skrypuch is a Ukrainian Canadian children’s writer who has received numerous awards and honours for her books. Her most recent novel is Underground Soldier. Luka escapes a Nazi slave camp only to be caught amidst the Nazi and Soviet front. He joins Ukrainian resistance fighters and mounts raids on both oppressive regimes.

Marsha - book covers

Heather Kirk is a Canadian author who writes about Poland for young people and adults. Her most recent book is a non-fiction account of the Polish nonviolent resistance movement, Solidarity. The book is titled Be Not Afraid: The Polish (R)evolution, “Solidarity.”

heather - book covers

Graffiti Knight by Karen BassIn spite of the scars World War Two has left on his hometown, Leipzig, and in spite of the oppressive new Soviet regime, Wilm is finding his own voice.

The Secret of the Village Fool by Rebecca Upjohn. (picture book) When the Nazis arrive in the sleepy little village of Zborów in Poland and begin rounding up Jews, what will Milek, his brother Munio and their parents do?

Just Call Me Joe by Frieda Wishinsky. The year is 1909 and Joseph has just immigrated to the United States from Russia.

frieda, rebecca, karen - book covers

Sworn Enemies by Carol Matas. Set in Czarist Russia in 1851, this novel addresses the issue of forced conscription into the army.

Nettie’s Journey by Adele DueckAn old woman tells her granddaughter the story of her life in a Mennonite village in Ukraine – from the dangers of World War I and the Russian Revolution to their escape to Canada.

Rachel’s Secret by Shelly Sanders. Rachel, a Jew, and Sergei, a Christian, find their worlds torn apart by violence in pre-revolutionary Russia.

carol matas - book cover

Schooldays Around the World (available 2015)  by Margriet Ruurs. (picture book) A school in Kazakhstan is featured.

Thanks to Gillian O’Reilly for suggesting these books:

Out of Line: Growing up Soviet by Tina Grimberg. (Non-fiction) Memories of life behind the Iron Curtain in Kiev.

One More Border: The true story of one family’s escape from war-torn Europe by William Kaplan and Shelley Tanaka, illustrations by Stephen Taylor. (Non-fiction) Lithuanian Jews escape the Holocaust.

Four Steps to Death by John Wilson. Set during the battle of Stalingrad.

non-fiction book covers


5 thoughts on “Who writes about Stalin and communism for kids?

  1. Karen Bass

    (A repost from Facebook.) Good list, Urve. She’s not Canadian, but for interested readers I’d recommend Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, about a Lithuanian girl and her family sent to Siberia by the Soviets.

    It’s good the stories are finally starting to be told. I can see my reading list just got longer.

    1. Urve Tamberg Post author

      Thanks, Karen. Between Shades of Grey is a very good book. It starts with the massive deportations that took place on June 14, 1941 all across the Baltics. The people deported in cattle cars to Siberia were families, children, grandparents, not political dissidents. My novel starts at the same time (June 1941), but Madli avoids deportation, and has to evade both the Soviets, and Nazi armies.

  2. Sherry Isaac

    Thanks for this, Urve.

    My maternal grandparents fled Russia in the early days of revolution, not meeting until they were both living in Winnipeg. I heard stories growing up, but few and far between, the details vague as my memory of them, for when I was little, the impact of these stories, whispered at the adult table, were lost on me. I regret never bringing the stories up when I became an adult. Though my curiosity nagged, I always thought there would be an ideal time, a time when it was just me and them, and no other relatives, no birthday celebrations, to interrupt. That time never came, and so I must look to the stories of others.


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