Ukraine for Middle-Grade Readers: From The Mixed Up Files

Before Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, many people in other places knew very little about the country. Recent nonfiction and fiction books about Ukraine for middle grade readers can help them understand why Ukrainians fight so fiercely to defend.

Most of these books appeared in 2022, and many of their publishers will contribute the proceeds from sales to Ukraine relief.


Ukraine is known for the beautiful golden-domed architecture of its cities and its rich culture and language. It is also called “The granary of Europe” because other countries in Europe and the world depend on its abundant cereal harvests for food.

Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating Ukraine, by Ukrainian children’s author Oksana Lushchevska (Capstone Press, 2022), covers Ukraine’s history of resisting invasion and domination by other countries, including Russia. Lusgchevska also aims to immerse young readers in Ukrainian culture. There is a whole section on sunflowers, the national flower and symbol of Ukraine. Includes instructions on how to plant your own sunflower and a Ukrainian poem to recite while you water it! Ukrainian Easter eggs are world famous and she tells how to dye the eggs with natural dyes. She has even included a guide to learning the Ukrainian alphabet and some key phases. Brilliant photographs illustrate Blue skies and golden fields.

More like a list is The Great Ukraine Book: Interesting Stories, Ukrainian History and Random Facts about Ukraine, by Anatolly Drahan (independently published, 2022). Learn here not only about Ukraine’s past, but also about pop culture, folklore, food, music, religion, celebrities and symbols, and why Ukrainians celebrate two different New Years.

Ukrainian is one of the most lyrical languages ​​in the world. Enjoy learning some of this from Ukrainian Picture Dictionary Coloring Book – 1500+ Ukrainian Words and Phrases for Creative and Visual Learners of All Ages (Slang Mastery 2022).


These four middle grade novels take place in other times of great conflict and invasion in Ukraine’s past. The situations that the young characters must face are grim and terrifying. But these are stories of resilience, courage and hope, the qualities most needed in war-torn Ukraine today.

The keeper of Kyiv memory, by Erin Littleken (Boldwood Books, 2022), takes place in the 1930s, a time known as The Holodor, The Great Starvation. The Soviet ruler of Russia, Joseph Stalin, occupied the Ukraine and tried to erase its culture. The Soviets reclaimed all the grain produced in that fertile country and starved 4 million Ukrainians. In The keeper of Kyiv memory, Katy, 16, at first sees the villagers disappear for resisting the Soviets. Soon she is involved in the fight for survival herself. The author Littleken is the granddaughter of a Ukrainian World War II refugee.

winter Killing, by Canadian/Ukrainian author Marsha Forchuck Skrypuch (Scholastic, 2022), also takes place around the time of the Great Famine. In this gripping story, young Nyl fights to stay alive. Alice, whose father came from Canada to work for the Soviets, sees that what is happening to people is terribly wrong. Nyl and Alice come up with a daring plan. Will they survive long enough to see it through?

In April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, not far from Kyiv, melted down, poisoning the environment. In Helen Bates’ graphic novel, The lost boy of Chernobyl (Otter Barry Books, 2021) two headstrong old women refuse to evacuate. Nine years later, the wolves of the woods bring a ragged boy to her doorstep. The boy has been living with the wolves in the toxic no-go zone. Will the two be able to find their family after all this time?

In the suspense novel, the war below, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (Scholastic, 2020), a Ukrainian boy is smuggled out of a Nazi forced labor camp during World War II. He has to leave her dear friend Lida behind, but he vows to find her again one day. IF it survives. Running across the field, he struggles to evade both Nazi and Soviet agents and finds himself in the line of fire.


Maya and her friends: a story about tolerance and acceptance to support the children of Ukraine (Studio Press, 2023) takes place in 2017. In that year, Russia conquered Crimea and annexed it to Ukraine. They also temporarily occupied parts of Donetsk and Lugansk. This is the story of families with children in the Crimea, all with different family backgrounds. It shows how living under occupation and the shadow of war has impacted their lives. Ukrainian author Larysa Debysenk wrote this novel in Kyiv, against the roar of Russian gunfire. She says: “I want to shout that the children of my country need international protection. The world needs to understand this.”

Yellow butterfly: a story from Ukraine will be released from Red Comet Press in January 2023. Without words, and using the symbolic yellow and blue colors of Ukraine, children’s book illustrator Oleksandr Shatokhin shows a young girl’s view of the military conflict: her fear, anger and frustration, and finally his hope.

Let’s hope, too, that by the time these last two books appear, the fighting in the Ukraine is over and rebuilding can begin! Glory to Ukraine!

cowering sue

Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu. She is the author of the middle grade children’s and puppet novel YOU WILL CALL ME DROG (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012).

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