Honoring Your Students’ Curiosity: What’s a Cherkasska?

We love hearing from Junior Great Books students! The following email exchange took place between a third-grade class in New York City (assisted by their teacher) and Rachel Claff, Director of K-12 programs. The class was reading “The Man Whose Trade Was Tricks,” a Georgian folktale as told by George and Helen Papashvily from Junior Great Books Series 3, Book Two.
From: Mark Fox
Date: Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 10:40 AM
Subject: a vocabulary question
To: Rachel Claff

dear publisher,
we were reading a story called the man whose trade was tricks and we found the word cherkasska and we don’t know what it means.
we were wondering if you could tell us what it means.
thank you very much,
class 216 and mr. fox

The Man Whose Trade Was Tricks

Illustration from “The Man Whose Trade Was Tricks” (Junior Great Books Series 3, Book Two) by Frank Gargiulo.

From: Rachel Claff
To: Mark Fox

Dear Mr. Fox and Class 216,
Thank you for your email!

cherkasska is a long overcoat. The definition (along with many other unfamiliar word definitions) appears in the Reader’s Journal for Series 3, Book One.


From: Mark Fox
To: Rachel Claff

dear Ms.claff,

thank you for writing back to us. we have been trying to find out more about this word online but we can´t find anything about it. do you know anything else about it like what language it´s from or how to write it in that language´s alphabet? thank you..

class 216

Dear Ms. Claff,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write to my class. They were all SO excited to see that you had sent a response! We drafted the email together as a class and I asked students to do all the typing, so please excuse the typographical errors!

We have been learning about using the internet to find answers to questions we have about the books we read, but we haven’t been able to find much about the word cherkasska. We have found that it is the name of an oblast in Ukraine and that it might be used as a surname, but we haven’t been able to find any information about its etymology as a word for a coat (other than in the Junior Great Books guide). Do you happen to know if the word is a Slavic word or a Georgian word? Is there anything else you might be able to tell us about its origin? I’m not sure why but my students have become almost obsessed with this word. It’s become quite the classroom mystery!

Thank you so much for your time! Sorry to be a pest!


Mr. Fox

PS: My class loves Junior Great Books!

The Man Whose Trade Was Tricks

Illustration from “The Man Whose Trade Was Tricks” (Junior Great Books Series 3, Book Two) by Frank Gargiulo.

From: Rachel Claff
To: Mark Fox

Dear Class 216,

Hello again from Great Books! We’re all very impressed by how interested you are in the word cherkasska and how much research you’ve been doing. It made us excited to find out more as well!

I think the reason you’ve been having so much trouble finding more on the internet is because the word can be spelled in a few different ways. I finally found this definition online under a different spelling (cherkeska):


The way to spell it in Russian is черкеска.

cherkasska or cherkeska is also called a chokha: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chokha. This site has pictures of different types of chokha.

I hope this helps you with your research. Thank you again for writing to us!

Rachel Claff


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