Inspired by Jean of Howling Frog Books, whose January posts focused on lesser-known children’s titles from (mostly) outside the U.S., I thought I’d share a few of the classic Lithuanian stories I grew up with.
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Meškiukas Rudnosiukas (Little Bear with the Brown Nose), by Vytė Nemunėlis
This is my rough translation of the first two verses:
There in the woods, where the fir trees whisper,*
Under a very, very old pine,
Lived the bear Mr. Rudnosis,
With Mrs. Rudnosis — his wife.
And they had a little bear, —
A little Rudnosis, just like them —
He had no need yet for clothing,
As he played only inside the house.
The book actually contains three episodes, if you will, but it’s the first one I remember best. When I was little, I could recite it by heart — but it was more fun when one of the grown-ups told it, because
- they’d give the characters different voices, like the father bear’s big, deep tone,
- and when we’d get to the part where Papa Bear is bragging that he’s not afraid of bees, because he has too much fur for them to sting him, the grown-up would act out the bees getting tangled in his fur by tickling us.
* The title of this post is the original Lithuanian version of this line.
About the author: 
Vytė Nemunėlis is the pen name of Bernardas Brazdžionis, one of Lithuania’s best-known poets and literary critics of the 20th-century. He was born in 1907, in the town of Steibekėliai, Lithuania. Brazdžionis began writing and publishing his poetry in 1924, and studied Lithuanian literature, language, and pedagogy at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas.
Throughout his life, Brazdžionis edited many journals and other publications in Lithuania, Germany, and the U.S. He was a prolific writer, both for children and adults, and received several awards and honors for his work — including a medal from Pope John Paul II in 1989, and the Vatican’s honor of Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, in 1998.
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Eglė, Žalcių Karalienė
SurLaLune lists “Eglė, Queen of Serpents” as a tale similar to Beauty and the Beast, though I’d always associated it with The Frog Prince. Now, of course, I can see elements of both in the story — and in this variation by Salomėja Neris, there are even elements of the Grimms’ Cinderella tale, “Ashputtle.”
It’s an origin story, explaining how some of Lithuania’s trees — fir, oak, ash, birch, and poplar (willow in the Salomėja Neris version) — came to be. The version I grew up with was somewhat tamed, meant for a younger audience. It’s only in recent years that I discovered some of the other versions, in which the prince makes Eglė do three impossible tasks before he lets her visit her family. And in some variations, Eglė’s brothers beat her three boys to try to make them reveal the prince’s secret.
In the end, though, it was always the youngest child, Drebulė, who was blamed for what happened to the prince, and as punishment, she was turned into one of Lithuania’s weakest trees — the trembling poplar. Which I always thought was unfair. She was just a little girl! And especially in the versions with the nastier uncles, could we really blame her for giving in to their questions?
Fairy tales. They don’t always make sense.
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Grybų Karas (The Mushroom War), by Justinas Marcinkevičius.
This is one of Marcinkevičius’ best-known poems, often presented on stage for children. It’s a story about a foolish war that begins because the wife of the mushroom army commander wants a new silk shawl. Again, behold my rough translation skills:
All the forest mushrooms
Think it’s shameful —
Don’t you care
For your wife?
Just this morning
Two Saffron milk-caps
Laughed at me
From under the bushes:
— Just look at
The skirt she’s wearing —
It is neither white
And her hat
Is out of style…
— Ach, how unhappy
What kind of commander
If you lie around
Idle all day?
Go, I say,
Quickly to war
And bring me back
A silk shawl…
The other mushrooms argue amongst themselves, some eager to go to war, others more reluctant. Even the forest animals are afraid, whispering about attacks that have already happened.
In the end, things don’t turn out as anyone expected.
About the author: 
Justinas Marcinkevičius was born in 1930, in Važatkiemis, Lithuania. Some of the poetry and other writings from his youth are controversial, as, for one thing, he spoke positively about Lenin and the Soviet regime – how good life was in the collective farms, for instance. Later, Marcinkevičius would admit he didn’t truly believe in the collectives. Of course, at that time, it was dangerous for a writer to speak anything but positively about the Soviet way of life.
For the most part, though, Marcinkevičius is known for writing about quintessentially Lithuanian subjects, from the country’s history and present-day culture, to its natural landscape and the ways people relate to it. Grybauti, or gathering forest mushrooms, for instance, is a favorite pastime in Lithuania. Seriously, there are even contests 🙂
As for me, I’m sad to say I don’t really like mushrooms. I do like the mushroom-shaped gingerbread cookies my grandmother makes every Christmas, though! ——–>
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Flying pigs and dancing beets.
The other day, I was going through all of my family’s old cassettes, and found a few tapes of Lithuanian children’s stories. One of the collections is called Žirginėliai (Little Catkins), and among those stories are three that my dad still randomly quotes to make us laugh.
- Aitvaras Teisėjas (The Faery Judge), by Balys Sruoga: The judge of the forest animals hears Rabbit’s complaint that Bear has run through his garden and destroyed his home and cabbages. Bear says he is innocent.
“Aitvaras teisėjas mostelėjo ranka … nustojo čiurlenti.”
(“The faery judge waved his hand … and [the birds] stopped chattering”)
There’s actually more between those two sentences, but this is how my dad always says it.
- Daržovių Gegužinė (The Vegetables’ Party), by Birutė Pūkelevičiūtė: All the vegetables gather for a dance. An unexpected guest arrives, but all is well until a snobby poppy crashes the party – and what is she, anyway, a flower or a vegetable?
“Kas tas ponas? Kas tas ponas?”
(“Who’s that man? Who’s that man?”)
The vegetables all chant this when the unexpected guest arrives.
- Skraidantis Paršiukas (The Little Flying Pig), by Birutė Pūkelevičiūtė: A little pig wishes he could fly, so he joins the army to learn to be a pilot. But life in the army is much harder than he expected.
“O nagai, nagai, nagai! Vai, brolyti, bus blogai!”
(“And your nails, your nails, your nails! Oh, young man, it’s going to be bad for you!”)
The leader says this to the little pig, when he sees how unkempt he is in the morning.
“Tau sakytą šimtą kartų, kad kariuomenė ne tvartas!”
(“You’ve been told a hundred times that the army’s not a pigsty!”)
The leader is scolding the little pig for not marching and singing correctly.
About Birutė Pūkelevičiūtė: 
Co-creator of Žirginėliai, as well as narrator of the stories she herself wrote, Pūkelevičiūtė had a lifelong passion for theater. Born in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1923, she started her acting career after high school, though she studied journalism and Germanistics at Vytautas Magnus University.
To avoid being targeted by the Soviet government (teachers, writers, artists, and other intellectuals were deemed suspicious; those targeted could be arrested and sent to the work camps in Siberia), Pūkelevičiūtė moved to Germany in 1944, and then to Canada in 1948.
She started a theater troupe in Montreal, where she also released her first book of poetry, Metūgės. It was also in Montreal that, along with fellow troupe member K. Veselka (who illustrated several of Pūkelevičiūtė’s printed stories, as well as the album cover for Žirginėliai) and others, Pūkelevičiūtė created the first edition of Žirginėliai in 1961. The second set of stories would be released in Chicago, in 1969.
Pūkelevičiūtė’s love of theater shows in the lively, playful style of her children’s stories – she wanted her readers/listeners to feel like they were part of the storytelling experience.
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 Sources re: Bernardas Brazdžionis:
 Sources re: Birutė Pūkelevičiūtė:
- Ingrida Korsakaitė, “Ratelio ritmu (Birutės Pūkelevičiūtės knygos vaikams, 2000)” (Tekstai.lt/Contemporary Lithuanian Literature Anthology)
- “Pūkelevičiūtė Birutė” (Tekstai.lt)
- Birutė Ciplijauskaitė, “Birutė Pūkelevičiūtė” (Rašyk.lt)
- Audrius Musteikis. “Meilės vainikas B. Pūkelevičiūtei” (Bernardinai.lt)