Thursday, May 23, 2024

Threads: Zlata's Ukrainian Shirt

Threads: Zlata's Ukrainian shirt / Lina Maslo
NY:  FSG, c2024.
40 p.

International Vyshyvanka Day was just last week; it's a celebration of Ukrainian heritage, held on the 3rd Thursday of May. These days wearing the Vyshyvanka (the Ukrainian embroidered shirt) is a response to the effort to wipe out Ukrainian culture with the Russian invasion of the country, so it's really resonant to read this picture book about a time in history where it was similarly evocative. 

Zlata is a young girl in the 30s, when the enforced famine was created by Stalin's policies. Over 1932-33, many Ukrainians were starved to death when Communist Russia took everything from farms and the countryside. This is known as the Holodomor, and seems like a dark topic for a children's book. But Maslo handles it well, focuses on this specific family and the importance of heritage, through Zlata's blouse made by her mother. "Red is for love, and black is for sadness", Zlata's father says, but there are also bright colours on a new blouse years later, representing hope and joy. As a side note, the endpapers of the book are printed with the floral motifs from her blouse, one in black and red and one in full colour. Great touch. 

Zlata must hide her shirt during these years, as any bit of Ukrainian culture or language is being repressed and is dangerous to show. But culture remains, and it comes out again. This is an important book for this moment, giving context and history to current events. And it's well done, telling an important story in way that children will understand. The illustrations are bright and engaging as well - I thought this was a really good read. You can see more from inside the book, and read the author's note on it, at Woozles bookstore. 


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