Russia’s Nikea Publishers has printed a new edition of the Azbuka [alphabet book], a textbook for little children written by the Orthodox author Elena Slobodskaya. This book helps the young reader learn the letters of the Russian alphabet, and go on to read stories and poems.
In the opinion of modern psychologists, it is important to begin to teach children to read before the age of three. Of course, most parents begin long before it is time for them to go to school. Every big book store offers a wide assortment of such books. There are many alphabets, from “nursery” books geared to specific personalities, their character and even emotional state. What should a good alphabet book contain?
Most parents and children are accustomed to poetic alphabets; poems about letters, of course, tend to be clever and easily remembered.
Of course, any children’s book should coax them to read independently, it must be well illustrated, and for the youngest readers the book must be both sturdy and safe, well-bound with heavy paper and rounded corners. There are even alphabet books that double as toys, without text, just pictures. There are well-known, “classic” alphabet books used generation after generation. The alphabet book is generally a child’s first book, and should be carefully chosen. Unfortunately, book stores today carry an array of unfortunate books featuring slang, vulgarities and other inappropriate content.
The study of letters cannot be alien to a child’s daily life, interests, and development of his individuality. The children of Christian families should have an Orthodox alphabet book. The letter A, for instance, should not only be associated with the common “arbuz” (watermelon), but also “angel,” etc.
The late author Elena Slobodskaya wrote this Azbuka used to teach the children of Russian émigrés. The Orthodox Christian intelligentsia in the diaspora maintained a living, unbroken tradition in language, pedagogy, art and daily life. This was carefully preserved in the present book. This edition has been adapted to reflect current norms of the Russian language.
Matushka Elena Slobodskaya (nee Lopoukhine) was the wife of Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, author of the renowned textbook The Law of God, which is to this day widely published in Russia and abroad. For many years, Elena Alekseevna was the Director and teacher of the Nyack Parish School in New York, writing curricula and textbooks, organizing Christmas “yolka” pageants with songs and games. She was also the main editor of the Orthodox periodical Trezvon, founded the “younger sisterhood” of Holy Virgin Protection Parish, taught in Orthodox summer camps, published the Lesnaya gazeta [“summer journal”] and sang with her students at the campfire. Those who knew Matushka Yolochka, as she was known, say that she treated every child as her own, and they loved her, too.
She firmly believed that teaching children in the Church is one of the most important things in life. Matushka would often say “through children, the family comes to God and the Church, children draw parents to the temple of God.”
Azbuka was the result of many years of experience as a teacher and Orthodox educator. Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, justifiably wrote that this book “is in every sense the finest of all textbooks of its kind and purpose. It was written by a smart, knowledgeable and experience author and deserves universal approval and distribution in the Russian school and family.”
The bright, good and clever illustrations in Azbuka are entertaining for children, and remind adults of the joyful times of their childhood. The artist, AA Rostovtsev, drew from the finest examples of pre-Revolutionary children’s books which are relevant even today. The colorful drawings and unique educational editing by Elena Sloboskaya will help young children to quickly learn to read.
Azbuka also includes Bozhiy Mir [“God’s World”], written by Fr Seraphim, which is a wonderful work intended as a first Law of God for children. Written in a lively and beautiful tongue, with magnificent drawings by Fr Seraphim himself, Bozhiy Mir will help strengthen children’s knowledge and will become a favorite.