The Twelve Months
by Rafe Martin

The Twelve Months
A Slavic Cinderella Story
Children's book review by P.J. Rooks

Ages 5+

If we follow the logic, it seems there may be a sad truth among us:

Marushka is a nice girl.

Nice girls always finish last, therefore

Marushka will finish last.

But wait -- a-ha! There is still hope! We've forgotten to figure in the Cinderella factor. Under the International Articles and Provisos of Cinderella Exemption 472-C, numerous advantages may be made available to Marushka upon granting of official Cinderella status if she can prove the following:

-- Kindness forefront among personal values as indicated by no fewer than three (3) letters of reference.

-- Orphaned by parents and/or mistreated by foster family. (Verifiable death certificates and claims of abuse must have been filed with local departments of vital statistics and child protective agencies prior to application for Cinderella Exemption 472-C.)

-- Recognizes emotionally supportive magical guardian as true surrogate for lost parent or grandparent and can show proper documentation thereof including, but not limited to, legal Powers of Attorney (where applicable).

-- Possesses magical article(s) of clothing and certificate of otherworldly authenticity for said item(s).

Okay, so she doesn't have any bewitched socks or glass slippers, but three out of four's not bad. We'll give it to her: Marushka is a Slavic Cinderella, her story culled for us from across the ocean thanks to Rafe Martin and his wonderful book, The Twelve Months.

The Twelve Months opens on a bitter and snowy January day in which we hook up with Marushka and her mean aunt, who, in keeping with the ways of all evil step-parents, wants Marushka gone.

Since Marushka is the one who's doing all the work, it is a bit illogical, but her nasty cousin, Holena, fears that she will find no groom for herself if she must continue to live in the shadow of Marushka's kindness. Thus, a wicked plan is hatched to dispense with poor Marushka once and for all and they charter for her a decidedly doomed fate à la Mission: Impossible.

One midwinter's day, Holena turned to her cousin and said, "Bring me some violets, fresh and sweet-scented. Do it now, you lazy good-for-nothing!"

"But how can I find violets in winter?" protested Marushka. "Violets do not bloom in snow!"

"Silence!" shouted her aunt. "Do you dare to disobey? Off with you. And don't return without those violets!"

What charming folks they are! Out goes Marushka into the cold and snowy land. She crunches through the woods near her home and up a mountain... then up some more... then some more... and, good grief, will this mountain never end? Finally she finds a glowing bonfire surrounded by men and, nearly frozen, she approaches and politely asks if she may join them for a while.

Of course she may. They are kind. They are the twelve months of the year.

January, who currently holds the lead position, asks Marushka what on earth she is doing out in this terrible weather. When she tells of her quest for violets, January invites March to sit in the lead position for a brief moment so that spring may bloom and Marushka may collect her unlikely flowers.

March obliges, winter quickly melts away into spring and a patch of fresh, sweet-smelling violets springs up. Marushka thanks her new friends profusely, collects the violets and, as January resumes his place and the winter weather rushes back in, she scurries down the mountainside toward home. Review continues.

color enhanced image from The Twelve Months

Indeed, Marushka has stumbled upon a handy trick, but it's hardly good enough to satisfy her wrathful relatives.

Out she goes again a few days later for strawberries.

June takes the honored seat and her wish is granted. Still not enough, Marushka returns yet again in search of apples and is saved by September.

Each time she returns with their wishes granted, the lazy women back at home want to know where she got these things. "From the mountain top," replies Marushka, keeping it simple.

Finally, the aunt and cousin decide to go and fetch their own apples. Out they wander, through the woods, up the mountain, up, up, up, until at last, they find the bonfire of the Twelve Months.

Rudely, they insist to be allowed to warm themselves, then demand that the men point them in the direction of the apples. But alas, rudeness doesn't go over too well with immortals. The Twelve Months disappear and are replaced by a heavy snow which douses the fire. The aunt and cousin are left to wander in the dark and are never seen again.

Meanwhile, Marushka rests by a warm fire at home. In the spring, she plants some of the salvaged apple seeds, grows a large orchard and celebrates each harvest by sharing with her neighbors. Together they all live happily ever after and, what's this -- a last-minute twist? Who's telling this story anyway? You'll have to read it to find out!

Master folklorist Rafe Martin never disappoints. His stories draw on the plots and themes that spellbound our species for many a millennia before the cathode ray tube entered the (now televised, computerized, digitalized and otherwise dehumanized) picture. Vladyana Langer Krykorka's vivid images are twinklingly cold yet somehow aglow.

Repetitive, and therefore easily-learned, Rafe Martin's The Twelve Months is destined for fast favoritism with kids whether you choose to read it or to tell it.

End note: Check out this brief but fascinating history of the Cinderella story at Sur La Lune Fairy Tales.

More children's books set in faraway places.

Read more of P.J.'s reviews.

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