Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Set in the Soviet Union during the 1930s
Based on a true story
About the Book
It’s 1930 in the Soviet Union and Stalin’s first Five Year Plan is in full swing. Why should 11-year-old Katya care? She’s more interested in getting her ears pierced or playing with her dog. But when her father is labeled a kulak, the politics of communism changes everything. After Papa’s arrest, the rest of the family is crammed into a freight train bound for Siberia. Will Katya ever see her home again? Will anything ever be the same?
Inspired by a true story, Red Stone explores the trauma and heartbreak suffered by thousands of families in the Soviet Union during the 1930s.
About the Author
This is the book the author wished she’d read as a child. She loved reading mysteries, but it wasn’t until many years later, that she got to be a detective herself and solve the puzzle of her mother’s childhood. Exploring this mystery began with old photographs. Other clues (research) included: dinner conversations, the internet, and a most serendipitous journey to the former Soviet Union. In what is now Ukraine, she leafed through faded secret police files, listened to gold-toothed, arthritic women remember their stolen youth and gazed at forgotten perennials in undefined graveyards. Following one old woman’s directions, she found a pile of red granite stones in an empty field. Was this where her kulak grandfather’s windmill once stood?
Gabriele Goldstone (B Ed, MA in German) lives on the Canadian prairies where the winters can be as cold as in Siberia. But with plenty of food, a warm house, and proper clothes, winters feel much warmer than the one Katya experienced back in 1930/31 in Yaya, Siberia.
Gabriele Goldstone is eager to share photos and research behind the writing of Red Stone. She also has a variety of age-appropriate activities for students.
Note: Red Stone was previously published as The Kulak’s Daughter (Blooming Tree Press, Austin, Texas) in 2009. It received positive reviews, was shortlisted for the McNally Robinson Children’s Book Award (older category) in 2010, received a 2010 Silver Moonbeam Award for historical fiction, and was included in Resource Links 2010 Year’s Best list for grades 7-12. When Blooming Tree Press folded a year later, The Kulak’s Daughter went out of print. The author is grateful to Rebelight for not only publishing a new and improved version, but also the sequel, Broken Stone in the Fall, 2015.
10 Quick Facts behind Red Stone by Gabriele Goldstone (Rebelight Books, 2015) Visit: gabrielegoldstone.blogspot.ca for more research highlights.
1. Who was a kulak?
A prosperous peasant. (Anne Applebaum) During the Stalin years any peasant accused of opposing Soviet authority could be called a kulak.
2. What was the Five Year Plan?
The first Five Year Plan ran from 1928-1932. It was an attempt to modernize the USSR’s agriculture as fast as possible by industrializing small farms. The government would expropriate the land and create super-sized factory farms. There could be no collectives as long as there were kulaks.
3. How many kulaks were there?
Up to 1.3 million households were identified as kulak. (At least 5 million people.) In 1930 alone, 337,563 families were de-kulakized.
4. Were there different types of kulaks?
Yes. The kulaks were divided into three categories.
First Class Kulaks were considered counter-revolutionary activists. They were to be arrested, sent to labour camps and their families exiled. My grandfather was in this category. The quota was 60,000.
Second Class Kulaks were prosperous families considered less dangerous. They were sent into exile. 150,000 was the quota.
Third Class Kulaks were also forced from their homes, but could stay in the immediate area.
5. When were the kulaks liquidated?
In November, 1929 the Central Committee ratified an agreement to forcefully collectivize 80 per cent of the villages. Then on December 27, 1929 Stalin announced the plan to ‘liquidate the kulaks as a class.’
6. Where were the kulaks sent?
They were sent to ‘special settlements’ that had not yet been built. (In other words, they were sent to the middle of nowhere.) Most were sent to four main remote areas: 70,000 families to the Northern Region (around Arkhangel’sk); 50,000 families to Siberia; 25,000 families to the Urals; and 25,000 families to Kazakhstan.
7. What happened to the orphans?
Due to disease, overwork and lack of food, there were many orphans. Those who were not picked up by surviving relatives were put into state orphanages where they were treated poorly. They carried the kulak stigma with them into adulthood.
8. Who were the OGPU?
The secret police, under Soviet communism went through several name changes.
Cheka—secret police created by Lenin in 1917.
OGPU—November, 1923—headed by General Yagoda to oversee liquidation of kulaks
9. What was a kolkchoz?
A kolkchoz (plural: kolkchozy) was a collective or co-operative farm. Work units were called ‘brigades.’ Children born on a kolkchoz were not allowed to leave. By the 1940s the average collective contained 3500 acres.
10. What was the Great Terror?
In 1937 and 1938, Stalin purged the countryside of any remaining kulaks. 681,692 kulaks were shot. In 2004, while researching this book, I found the file on my grandfather. At age 86 my mom finally found out what happened to her own father.
1. Define a kulak. What were the differences between a class one, two, and three kulak?
2. What is communism and how does it affect Katya’s life? Who ‘invented’ communism? When did it begin in Russia? What countries, today, are still actively pursuing communist goals?
3. What is collectivization? Compare it to what’s happening to small family farms in our own country.
4. What is a kolkhoz?
5 How does politics affect your life? What kind of government do we have here? How does it differ from communism?
6. Katya was a German-Russian girl. Did her ethnicity have anything to do with her family’s exile. Why or why not?
7. What’s happened to the Soviet Union? When did it collapse? Why do you think it collapsed?
8. Try to find Katya’s home on a map. Why is it so difficult to find? Search for the other places mentioned, including, Zhitomir, Kiev, Moscow, Tomsk, Omsk, Arkhangelsk and the White Sea Canal. Why is this difficult? Why are places spelled differently or renamed? Trace Katya’s journey to and from Siberia. Compare the latitude to where you live.
9. Yaya – near Tomsk – wasn’t the only place of exile for kulaks. Can you find Arkhangelsk or other remote areas of exile?
10. List the animals (including birds and insects) in this novel and describe Katya’s relationship with them.
11. Katya decides that doing nothing is the worst thing in the world. Why? Do you agree with her? Why or why not?
12. Katya feels great pride when she gets her ears pierced and great shame when her hair is shaved. What would make you very proud and what would make you feel very ashamed?
13. What other emotions does Katya show in the book? Find three of them and discuss the situations where they happen. What sort of emotions have you had recently and why?
14 In what ways is Katya like you? In what ways is she different?
15. What is metaphor? Show examples of it in the book. What does the stork represent? What about the cuckoo?
16. In the book, it’s OGPU guards who supervise the exile. The Soviet secret police get renamed a few times. What are these other names?
17. According to some sources, more than twenty million people died under Stalin’s command. Many more suffered lifelong traumas. So why do you think Stalin’s atrocities are not as well known as those that Hitler committed?
Have the students connect with an older person. This can be a stranger at a local seniors’ centre or a family member/friend. Before the visit discuss with the students possible conversation topics. These could include: favourite meals, clothes, teachers, pets, brothers/sisters or events like birthdays, holidays, etc.
Have the students come up with five questions for their interview that include sensory details. The idea is to make the childhood of this older person become real to the student. Then the student is to write a short story. The story can focus on one of the questions or it can integrate the whole interview. It doesn’t have to be exactly like the older person’s memories, but it should use each of our five senses to make the story come alive. The story should be written in the first person and in the present tense. An illustration could be added.
Have students type up the story (using a reader-friendly large font) and either mail it or re-visit the senior and read it with them.
Other possible activities:
1. Write a story based on a family photograph or an heirloom. Be sure to include several emotions and sensory details.
2. Draw illustrations for the book.
3. Prepare a skit from a scene of one of the chapters.
4. Prepare a family tree.
5. Create a diorama for a scene in the book.
6. Explore the internet to learn more about gulags, communism and the Soviet Union.
7. Make some of the food mentioned in the book or make linden blossom tea.
8. Learn more about storks and cuckoos.
9. Learn more about lice and bedbugs.
10. Learn about the Northern Lights and some of the legends associated with them.
Related Reading for Children*
Nettie’s Journey by Adele Dueck
Coteau Books, 2005. Tells of the dangerous 1920s in the Soviet Union.
The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr
Knopf Books, 2014. Set in a nature reserve in Ukraine in 1941.
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books, 2011. Tells of the Lithuanian experience under Stalin.
Enough (picture book) by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, ill. by M. Martchenko
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2000. Story about the 1930s famine in Ukraine
Kobzar’s Children – A Century of Untold Ukrainian Stories ed. by M. Forchuk Skrypuch Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2006. An anthology of Ukrainian stories from the last century.
Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Scholastic, 2012. Forced labour of Ukrainian children under Hitler.
Stolen Child by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Scholastic, 2010. Ukrainian children taken from parents and adopted by Nazis.
Underground Soldier by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Scholastic, 2014. A boy’s experiences in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
Days of Terror by Barbara Smucker
Puffin, Canada, 1981. During the early years after 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in USSR.
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin
Henry Holt, 2011. A Newbery Honor Book about a young Pioneer in Stalinist Russia.
Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union by Kevin Cummingham
Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2006
*I’m always looking to update this list.
Resources for Adults
Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million
Knopf Canada, 2002
Gulag: A History
Random House, 2003
Inside the Stalin Archives
Atlas & Co., 2008
Neily Das (translated into English by Nancy Bernhardt Holland)
Gone Without a Trace
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2001
The Whisperers, Everyday Life in Stalinist Russia
Henry Holt, 2007
Oxford University Press, 1999
Oxford University Press, 1994
Gulag, Life and Death Inside the Soviet Concentration Camps
Firefly Books, 2003
In the Midst of Wolves, 2000
Under Arrest, 2004
The Old Country, 2006
Miller Country, 2014
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
(Basic Books, 2012) isbn 978-0465031474
The German-Russians (translated from the German by Joseph S. Height)
The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1978
The Unknown Gulag
Oxford University Press, 2007
We’ll Meet Again in Heaven
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, 2001
Test your understanding of Katya’s world in Red Stone. Circle the letter of the correct answer(s).
1. Which TWO of the following insects are parasites?
2. Which birds are NOT mentioned in Red Stone?
3. What is Katya’s baby brother called?
4. What new material threatens Katya’s family lifestyle?
5. Which trees are NOT mentioned in the book?
a) fir tree
b) chestnut tree
c) linden tree
d) poplar tree
6. Katya throws her doll down the well because:
a) she’s ugly
b) so nobody else can play with her
c) she’s a gift from Uncle Leo
d) she’s made of rubber
7. Christmas was banned because
a) it was too commercial
b) it was a religious celebration
c) there was no food
d) children were too greedy
8. Katya compares her baby brother’s toes to:
a) tiny apples in the orchard
b) pebbles on the river bed
d) stars in the sky
9. Katya picks linden blossoms for:
a) making saches
b) making soup
c) making shampoo
d) making tea
10. Katya’s papa likes to spend time
a) in his easy chair
b) at his windmill
c) at the train station in Zhitomir
d) riding his horse
11. What gift does Katya give her mother?
a) her doll
b) a basket of apples
c) pussy willows
d) a poem
12. Katya’s trip to Yaya, Siberia is bad because:
a) it’s cold
b) it stinks
c) it’s crowded
d) all of the above
13. Which disease spread by lice through the Siberian camp?
14. What does Katya decide is the worst?
a) the cold
b) the hunger
c) the bugs
d) doing nothing
15. What does Katya use to buy stamps?
a) the last of their food
b) a feather duvet
c) her gold hoops
d) a gold chain
16. Why do Sasha, Albert and Katya leave the camp?
a) to run away
b) to find some berries
c) to catch a rabbit
d) to go sledding
17. Who rescues Katya?
a) her papa
b) Uncle Leo
c) her teacher
d) no one
18. Which answer is WRONG? Katya carries a stone in her pocket because
a) it reminds her of the windmill
b) it reminds her of Papa
c) it reminds her of home
d) it reminds her of Lenin’s new tomb
19. The secret police had several names changes in the Soviet Union.
In Red Stone they are called:
a) the Cheka
20. What was a kolkchoz?
a) a collective for farming
b) a prison for children
c) a type of windmill
d) a dessert made with berries
Multiple Choice Quiz about the history behind Red Stone. (Created by G. Goldstone)
Circle the letter of the best answer(s):
1. Katya’s home village of Federofka is in:
a) Soviet Union
d) all of the above
2. Communism was introduced in the book, Communist Manifesto, written by:
a) Adolf Hitler
b) Carl Jung
c) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
d) Albert Einstein and Fredericke Jung
3. The Soviet leader before Stalin was called:
b) Czar Nicholas
c) Leonid Brezhnev
d) Adolf Hitler
4. Collectivization was introduced to:
a) collect land for the government
b) take land from the kulaks
c) fulfill the first Five Year Plan
d) all of the above
5. Kulaks included the following ethnic people:
d) all of the above
6. Proletariats were:
a) factory workers
7. The October Revolution happened in the year:
8. The Soviet Union collapsed:
a) At the end of the Second World War.
b) in 1961
c) It still exists.
d) in 1991
9. Which settlement is NOT in Siberia?
10. What religious holiday did the communists ban?
c) Ascension Day
d) all religious holidays
11. What are the secret police called in Red Stone?
12. Collectives were known as:
13. People in the Siberian exile camps died of:
e) all of the above
14. What was the national anthem of the Soviet Union until 1944?
a) The Internationale
b) Boldly Comrades, In Step
c) The Red Banner