Russian Optimism – Nursery Rhymes With an Innocent Title & Horrible Ending


I love the comic The Oatmeal, and highlighted a speech given by Oatmeal cartoonist Matthew Inman at BAHfest about a month ago. I was contacted about a new dark humor book called Russian Optimism, which they describe as having innocent titles and horrible endings. The book is an illustrated coffee table book with illustrations and translations, and I was given a digital copy to check out.

I loved this book and found it both dark and morbid, but also hilarious. Let’s be clear – you need a certain sense of humor to appreciate this. Most people will be like my wife, who reacted to most pages by saying ‘that’s AWFUL’! For example, one of the rhymes is called The Woods:

The Woods: “A little boy found a machine gun. Nothing lives in the woods anymore.”

The format is as shown on the image above – on one side you get a graphic, and on the other the text: title, English translation, original Russian and the transliteration. The author notes that rather than incorporate the original rhyming scheme he chose to focus on preserving the original context and meaning.

The rhymes are grouped in seven ironically titled chapters: Moral Messages, Parenting Pointers, Classic Cooking, Aquatic Adventures, Close Calls, Cheery Children and Explosive Endings.

Russian Optimism author Ben Rosenfeld notes that when he was growing up in New York as the child of Soviet immigrants, these rhymes highlighted many of the cultural differences between America and Russia. As he notes, whereas in America most movies have a happy ending, in a Russian movie if it looks like the hero will survive, you can be pretty sure he won’t.

Where to buy?

Direct from Russian – $25 ($20 + $5 shipping) – $27.36
Barnes & Noble – $27.71

Here is the ‘book trailer’:

9 thoughts on “Russian Optimism – Nursery Rhymes With an Innocent Title & Horrible Ending

  1. Not subtle enough for me! I like the ostmeal’s book ‘the terrible and wonderful reasons why I run’ and roald dhals revolting rhymes are great if you haven’t read them – and suitable for kids !

  2. I really like the Oatmeal too and Russian Optimism seems like it would be my kind of humor. It’s kind of interesting that a lot of the “common” fairytales that are passed down from generation to generation often seem innocent enough but many have some morbid story lines if you can read in between the lines.

  3. Haha, having been to Russia in the last few years and having only gained a smidgeon of perspective into their culture from that trip and a few dozen Russian movies before and after, I must say, seems apt. I got the Oatmeal distance runners book for Xmas, funny stuff!

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