June 6 – Russian Language Day


About the Holiday

Established in 2010 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Russian Language Day honors the music, art, and other unique aspects of this intriguing country. The observance coincides with the 1799 birthday of Alexander Pushkin, a Russian poet who is considered the father of Russian literature. Celebrations include concerts, readings, and other cultural events. Today, listen to the music of a Russian composer, read a novel or short story, or learn a few Russian words!

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (Once Upon a Masterpiece Series)

Written by Anna Harwell Celenza | Illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel


It’s the 1870s and Russian culture is enjoying a resurgence. Young musicians and artists are excited to be recognized by the world. Three friends—Modest Mussorgsky, a musician; Victor Hartmann, an artist and architect; and Vladimir Stasov, an art critic—have big plans for their work. Victor, especially, has dreams of designing the new City Gate in Kiev. But on July 23, 1873 Victor suffers an aneurysm and dies. Modest is devastated. He feels that Victor’s death is his fault because he had dismissed Victor’s complaints about a headache only days before. Although Vladimir tries to comfort his friend, Modest pushes him away.

Modest stops going out, he stops being happy, and he stops writing music. Meanwhile Vladimir organizes an exhibition of Victor’s art so everyone will remember him. Vladimir and other friends think that seeing Victor’s work displayed will help Modest come to terms with his friend’s death. When the exhibit is ready, Vladimir visits Modest to invite him to come. When Modest refuses, Vladimir locks the door, puts the key in his pocket, and tells Modest he had two choices: either go to the exhibition or have a new roommate in Vladimir. Modest reluctantly agrees to go.

When they reach the gallery, Modest reluctantly enters. He is awestruck. “Every inch was filled with Victor’s hopes and dreams, his fears, and his greatest triumphs.” Slowly Modest wanders through each room, gazing at the paintings that bring back such vivid memories. He sees familiar faces, costume designs, children, couples, peasants, even Baba-Yaga, a witch from Victor’s favorite fairy tale.

Modest stops in front of Victor’s picture “The Great Gate of Kiev.” Tears fill his eyes and he thinks, “This was to be your greatest achievement…now it will never be more than a dream. If only I could build it for you.” He studies the picture for a long time, and suddenly an idea comes to him—“Maybe I can build it for you!” He dashes from the gallery straight to his piano.

As Modest thinks about Victor’s art, “one by one the spirit of each picture filled the room.” The images rise from the piano and Modest follows them from one theme to another, note by note. Some passages he plays are slow and sad, others clear and quick, while still others flutter or whisper. Even Baba-Yaga makes an appearance. With each chord special parts of Victor came to life until the last majestic strains built the Great Gate of Kiev in music. Modest calls his composition Pictures at an Exhibition.

With the spirit of his friend Victor in his heart. Modest Mussorgsky goes on to compose operas and visit with friends. Vladimir Stasov also follows his dreams to travel far and wide, and wherever he goes he tells people about Victor and Modest’s Pictures at an Exhibition

Anna Harmann Celenza relates the heartfelt story of the origins of Modest Mussorgsky’s great work with sensitivity and honors the emotional origins and effect of his Pictures at an Exhibition. The hopes of the three friends as well as the details of Victor’s artwork are evocatively described, allowing children to easily picture the feelings and objects that influenced Mussorgsky’s music.

Both the colorful architecture of Russia and the soaring notes of Mussorgsky’s music are beautifully depicted in JoAnn E Kitchel’s illustrations. Each one-and-a-half-page spread depicting scenes of St. Petersburg, Modest’s apartment, the art gallery, musical imagery, and the theater is framed in lovely floral borders, tying together the themes of art and music. Rich purples, regal blues, fiery reds, and glowing yellows makes this book a feast for the eye as well as the mind.

The book is accompanied by a CD of Mussorgsky’s work, making Pictures at an Exhibition a must have for music lovers of all ages.

Ages 6 – 10 and up

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580895286

Russian Language Day Activity


Celebrate Russia Word Search


Find the names of Russian musicians, artists, writers, cities, and more in this circular word search. Print your Celebrate Russia Word Search here! And here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review