Lorene Shyba, publisher of Durvile Publications, has spent the past few years working with Dene elder Raymond Yakeleya to develop a series of books in Indigenous languages with the goal of preserving endangered languages. “Culturally, it’s so important to link language to the whole cultural phenomenon of a people,” she says. “I never really thought about my own heritage as a Ukrainian because, unlike [for] Indigenous languages, there has always been the old country. But, when Ukraine was threatened more than two weeks ago, that changed, and Shyba felt compelled to help her ancestral homeland. She decided to add a title to her spring list called The Little Book: Reader of Stories for a Free Ukraine, the proceeds of which are donated to charity. Shyba enlisted the help of Magda Stroinska, a professor of linguistics and languages at McMaster University, to translate the book originally published in the 1930s for the Ukrainian Canadian community on the prairies.
The little book will be released on March 31. Edmonton’s Audrey’s Books is taking pre-orders, it is also listed on Amazon.ca and book managerand will be available on Durville’the website. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, a Canadian charity that sends aid to support Ukrainian refugees in Europe.
Shyba and Stroiska spoke with Q&Q about the project.
How did you know The Little Book: Reader of Stories for a Free Ukraine?
SHYBA: I have a copy with my aunt’s name on the front. She probably brought him home from school. The copy is the 1940 corrected edition, but it appears to have been originally published in 1932. I have had this book since I was a child. That’s the value of a book, right? Bring back all those memories. I’m sure I was no more than three or four or five when my babka [grandma] put me on his lap, opened the book, and we went through all the letters. My grandmother was bound and determined that I speak Ukrainian. My two grandmothers were born here. That’s how deep the story of the Diaspora goes – I’m now a third generation Canadian. And yet, there is this strong allegiance to the old country.
Is The Little Book: Reader of Stories for a Free Ukraine a prose book? A collection of poetry?
SHYBA: The direct translation of the title of the book is first little book. I decided for the translation to drop the word first, it just wasn’t necessary. The book starts for preschoolers. Images are associated with associated sounds. For example, the sound hehehehehe is paired with a horse. And then that includes stories you’ll read until you’re around 9th grade. The alphabet, of course, is a very important part. For this reprint, I took the alphabet, originally placed in the middle of the book, and put it at the very beginning. Next, we added the English equivalent sound to Ukrainian Cyrillic letters. About half of the book is made up of short stories that accompany the letters.
What are some of the themes of the book?
SHYBA: One of the themes is respecting your new country, and it also talks about the old country and respecting the heritage. Farms, families, cultural values are major themes. Family is so central and there is so much love for children in Ukrainian families. Farms are important because most children lived on farms. I would add that books from the 1930s, from almost any culture you look at, really have old school values. Gender roles show little boys playing trains and little girls playing dolls. I grew up with it. They didn’t know I was going to become such a feminist, but that’s part of the cultural values of that time. It will be interesting to see if there is a significant reaction to this.
Can you tell us about the process involved in republishing the book?
SHYBA: The translator and I both searched for a breadcrumb trail to find out who the original editor and illustrator (Mykola Matwijczuk) might be. We found the surname in Canada, but also in Poland, Paraguay and Brazil. We couldn’t find the publisher, but the family is part of the diaspora. We have every reason to believe that the book is now in the public domain. And even if someone shows up and says, hey, that’s my great-grandmother, would they be upset that we’re publishing a book with proceeds going to charity at such an urgent time?
For art, will you take photographs of an original copy and then insert them into a new composition? Or will there be new art?
SHYBA: There is only one photo that is new, and that is the photo of the new edition and the old edition. The illustrations are so beautiful. How could we add something more charming? The original is a black and white line drawing so it was easy to scan and reproduce.
What kind of response did you receive to the project?
SHYBA: My heart just bursts when I think about it, absolutely bursts. I spoke to two different printers, Blitzprint in Calgary, Friesens in Winnipeg, and they both donated their services for this book. Can you imagine a printer saying we’re not going to charge you?
The other terrific response so far has come from our vendors. They really talk about it. The first order was placed by Audreys Books in Edmonton: they ordered 150 copies and are also donating the proceeds of their sales to the foundation.
Can you talk about the process of translating the book for an audience nearly a century after its initial publication?
STROINSKA: There were many problems with this translation. Many words have changed. I think the book was written in the Western Ukrainian dialect, which was much closer to Polish
than modern Ukrainian. If you use online translation aids like Google Translate, this is not the language you will find when you check Ukrainian. I felt like Sherlock Holmes sometimes. I also sought help [from] a Ukrainian colleague, Nikolai Penner, who also teaches linguistics and languages at McMaster University. If I was completely lost, I emailed him the fragment I was struggling with, and he very generously helped me out. His mother and mother-in-law had just arrived in Canada, so he said the text had been double-checked by two Ukrainian grandmothers.
What does it mean for you to be part of this project?
STROINSKA: It means a lot because my father’s family is from Ukraine. They were Polish, but when my father was born in 1900, western Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And at that time, I think the relationship was very positive. Also, I was brought [up] to [the story of] my father’s first wife was spending her summer vacation in Ukraine in 1939, where her parents were from, when World War II broke out. The Russians invaded from the East while the Germans invaded from the West, and she never returned home. She perished during the war. The current war is such a horrific act of aggression, creating suffering for innocent civilians, including many vschildren, so working on this children’s book is such a positive thing. I can help by donating money or helping to [provide] help, which I did too, but this book is something that will stick with people. So I’m really very happy to be part of this project.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Update, March 10: The story has been updated from the original to reflect that in 1900 Western Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, not Poland.