Fairy Tales in Different Cultures-Vasilissa and Baba Yaga

Today we will look at a Russian version of Cinderella. I found two picture books with basically the same story and we will look at both today, but first a bit about Russia. Somehow after a week of a deep freeze in New England, Russia seems like the right country to talk about. (I literally heard a radio host mention a town in Russia for having the record for lowest temperatures. She kept checking them because it made our temperatures seem so much better.)

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 Russia or the Russian Federation is the largest country in the world. It borders Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea as well as maritime borders Japan and the United States (Alaska). It covers more than one eighth of the earth's inhabited land. Russia is the ninth most populated country and it passes through nine time zones! It also has the largest mineral and energy reserves as well as produces the largest amount of the world's oil and natural gas and has the most forest reserves and its lakes have one-quarter of the world's fresh water supply.

Russia has a long history of various political leaders from tzars to communism and now an elected president. And due to the size of the country it has various climates--from subarctic to semi-arid climates. The recorded high and low temperatures of Russia are 113.7 degrees Fahrenheit and -96.2 degrees Fahrenheit. That is quite a range! (Source)

Now onto our story. First a fair warning. This story is one of the more scary versions of Cinderella as Baba Yaga is a witch who is known in other Russian stories. My sensitive child often covers the pictures of Baba Yaga when we read it. The books we read are Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave by Marianna Mayer and Vasilissa the Beautiful by Elizabeth Winthrop. Both stories are about the same with a few minor differences. Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave gives a bit more detail about some Russian culture like foods that Baba Yaga eats.
A Bendy Doll I made for Hazel

In this story, Vasilisa's mother gives her a special doll on her deathbed. She tells Vasilisa to give the doll some food and drink any time she needs something or is feeling sad. (In one version the doll is made by her mother.) After her mother's death, Vasilisa feels sad and tries giving the doll some food and drink. The doll comes alive and comforts her. Soon Vasilisa's father remarries a widow with two daughters. The father leaves for a long trip (or dies in one of the versions) and the stepmother sells the house and moves to the edge of the forest. In the forest, it is well known that there lives a witch named Baba Yaga who likes to eat humans. The stepmother's hope is to have Baba Yaga eat Vasilisa since she is so beautiful and kind and there is no chance of marrying her own daughters off with Vasilisa around. She sends her out on errands in the forest hoping she will not come back, however the doll keeps Vasilisa away from Baba Yaga.
Vasilisa Doll
Finally the stepmother comes up with a plan. She puts out all the candles and fire except one and gives each daughter a task. At midnight the eldest daughter puts the candle out as her mother instructed her (and in the other version the mother used her witch magic to make it so no flame could be lit in the house). They tell Vasilisa she must go to Baba Yaga's house and ask for a light. They force her out the door and lock it behind her telling her not to return without a light.
We used white glitter glue since white crayon would not show up.

Scared Vasilisa sets off but also takes time to awaken the doll with some food and drink and ask for help. The doll comforts her and assures her that as long as she is with her, no harm will come to her. So off she sets on the long, dark walk through the forest. After walking for some time, she sees a white knight on a white horse pass her. Then immediately following a red knight on a blood-red horse passes her and the sun comes up.
She reaches Baba Yaga's house which is on chicken feet and surrounded by a fence of human bones with skulls at the top. Then she sees a black horse pass and it becomes dark and all the skulls magically become lit.
Then Baba Yaga comes home. She tells Baba Yaga why she has come and Baba Yaga says she must work for the light. Baba Yaga has Vasilisa serve her dinner and then she goes to sleep. The next morning Baba Yaga leaves Vasilisa a long list of jobs including cooking her a large dinner. Vasilisa wakes the doll after Baba Yaga leaves and the doll gets to work and Vasilisa cooks all day. Baba Yaga is upset that Vasilisa managed to get all the jobs done correctly, so the next day she leaves her even more. The day is repeated and again Baba Yaga cannot believe Vasilisa got all the work done so perfectly. Baba Yaga tells Vasilisa to talk to her so she asks about the knights. Then Baba Yaga asks Vasilisa how she was able to do all the work. Vasilisa almost tells her about her doll, but tells her instead that it is because of her dead mother's blessing. At this Baba Yaga gets upset since no one who is blessed should be in her house and she throws Vasilisa out giving her a lit skull for the light she earned. 
Vasilisa heads home and almost leaves the skull outside since there is no way they could still be without light, but the skull tells her she must take it inside. The stepfamily is happy to see her since they have not been able to get a light. The stepmother grabs the skull and places it on the table. The skull however burns the stepfamily with its eyes and then goes out. Vasilisa leaves and goes to live with an elderly woman. There she spins and weaves some cloth in hopes that the kind woman can sell it to pay for her room and board. The elderly woman sees what fine quality it is and takes it to the tzar as a gift. All the tzar's seamstresses refuse to cut such fine cloth and say the maker is the only one who should cut it. The elderly woman is sent for and she tells them her adopted daughter is the one who made it. When Vasilisa appears before the tzar he instantly falls in love with her beauty and asks her to marry him.
Doll Coloring Page

Here is my version of my Cinderella form for these books. 

The Enchanted Tree has an excellent bendy doll tutorial. It is how I learned to make them. For this one I added wooden beads as hands and cut a larger wooden bead in half for shoes.

The coloring pages can be found at:
White Knight for the white knight we used white glitter glue since the paper was already white.
Red Knight
Black Knight

If you enjoyed this one and have not seen the previous ones, you can see the summary of the series with links to each post here.


  1. I remember a Baba Yaga story from when I was a kid, it was a different story but I think she was in lots of Russian stories. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I remember reading about Baba Yaga when I was a kid! I love the dolls too. Pinning. :)


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