Appearing at the store Mind Over Matter, Mutala spoke at length about her recently released children’s book Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Easter. The work is a sequel to her 2010 bestseller Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Christmas.
Each book describes the adventures of a small girl named Natalia, patterned by illustrator Wendy Siemens on the young Mutala. In the Ukrainian language, the word baba means grandmother, while babushka denotes the traditional head-covering Ukrainian women wore.
“In my story, Natalia’s out playing in the snow and all of a sudden it starts snowing babushkas from the sky,” Mutala explained. “One lands on her head and takes her back to Ukraine and she meets her baba as a little girl, and her baba teaches her all about the Ukrainian Christmas Eve traditions.”
Book 2 in the series sees baba explaining Ukrainian Easter traditions. In the third, expected to be released next year, Mutala details Ukrainian wedding traditions.
“The neat thing about it is when she goes back in the first book, Baba’s a little girl,” Mutala said. “In the second book, she’s a teenager, and in the third book she gets married as an adult and immigrates to Canada, just like my grandparents.”
Mutala’s own baba, Tessie Wozhakowski, was born in 1888 in the Ukrainian village of Perespa. She and her eventual husband immigrated to Canada in 1912.
The author was inspired to write the series after travelling to the Ukraine in 2009 and meeting some long-lost relatives. Her curiosity about what life was like for her grandparents before they came to Canada melded with her interests in history and time travel.
“When I grew up, I had Aladdin and the 40 Thieves with the magic carpet,” Mutala said. “But that was already done, so I had to think of a way, ‘How am I going to get Natalia back to Ukraine?’ And it just came to me one day: ‘A babushka’s going to fall from the sky and take her back.’ Don’t ask me where that idea came from … I thought it was kind of cool, actually, and it’s turned out really well for me.”
I had to think of a way, ‘How am I going to get Natalia back to Ukraine?’ And it just came to me one day: ‘A babushka’s going to fall from the sky and take her back.’ - Marion Mutala
The first book became a bestseller and netted its author the Anna Pidruchney Award for New Writers. Aside from describing century-old life in the Ukraine, the books include glossaries for Ukrainian words and, in one case, a recipe for Ukrainian Easter bread.
Besides children’s books, Mutala also writes poetry and songs. She recently completed a murder mystery novel and moonlights as a musician in family act The Sassy Sisters.
Having worked as a teacher for 30 years, Mutala sees her current vocation as a continuation of her teaching work.
“I love teaching, and now I’m teaching in a different way,” she said. “Before I was teaching in the classroom every day. But now I go out … do book readings in schools, and I teach through my books … I guess once a teacher, always a teacher. You don’t get away from it, you just teach in a different manner.”