This Russian fairy tale is all about a man whose wife died leaving him to care for their young daughter, Irina. The man was worried that Irina was lonely, so he married a woman who had a daughter of her own. He felt like this gave Irina a family.
However, Irina’s father had made a mistake. Her stepmother was terrible and hated Irina. She was treated very like Cinderella whereas Nonna, the stepmother’s daughter got to lye in bed all day. If Irina or her father complained, the stepmother would throw pots and pans at them.
One morning, the stepmother decided that it was time for Irina to get married. She instructed her husband to take Irina into the forest and leave her by the tall pine tree. He didn’t want to because he believed that she would freeze in the cold. Irina’s stepmother insisted that she wouldn’t be waiting for long. The only food she was allowed to take were some peelings from the pigsty. Irina and her father were too scared to argue. As they rode away into the forest, the stepmother cackled at her trick…
Irina and her father went into the forest and located the pine tree. He really didn’t want to leave his daughter. She insisted that she’d be fine and didn’t want her father to get in any trouble.
As Irina was shivering in the cold and nibbling on the peelings, she heard footsteps in the snow. A glittering figure with a white beard came towards her. It was Father Frost. He asked her if she was warm and although she was shivering, Irina said that she was. He stepped closer making ice form at her feet. He asked her again if she was still warm. Irina said that she was, even though her toes were numb. Father Frost stepped closer making snowflakes fall. As he asked again, Irina struggled to breath because each breath stabbed like needles in her chest. Irina still insisted that she was warm enough. Father Frost took pity on Irina. He wrapped her up in a scarlet cloak and warm blankets.
That night, Irina’s father couldn’t sleep and rode into the forest, fearing that his daughter was dead. To his delight, she was alive, warmly dressed with a chest full of presents at her feet. The stepmother was furious when they returned. She said Nonna must go to the forest because she deserved richer clothers and presents than Irina.
When Father Frost visited Nonna at the tree, she was completely different to Irina. She moaned about the cold and was very greedy. Father Frost recognised that greed. He raised his staff.
The stepmother went into the forest, searching for Nonna. She found her as pale as ice with nothing but a box of pine needles at her feet. She hugged Nonna, but Nonna was so cold that they both froze on the spot!
An extract from A Year Full of Stories, by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Christopher Corr (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2016)