Usborne – May 2018
“Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning.
For Marinka’s grandmother is Baba Yaga, who guides spirits between this world and the next. Marinka longs to change her destiny and sets out to break free from her grandmother’s footsteps, but her house has other ideas…“
‘The House with Chicken Legs’ gave me a lump in my throat and on more than one occasion, I was wiping away my tears due to the book’s tenderness and delicate handling of the subjects of death, grief and loss.
As a child in the 80s, I had ‘The Faber Book of Favourite Fairytales’ which contained the tale of ‘Baba Yaga, the Boney-Legged Witch, so I was aware of the slavic tale. The image below is from the book – you can see the house with its chicken legs behind. I remember Baba Yaga making me feel quite fearful.
However, Baba Yaga in this story is not witch-like at all. She is a cuddly, compassionate and takes her responsibility of ‘guiding the dead’ very seriously. It is her duty to give them one last evening celebrating their lives, before they pass through the gate and return to the stars each night.
Marinka is determined that she is not going to be the next ‘Guardian.’ With only her grandmother and pet jackdaw ‘Jack’ for company, she feels lonely, unfulfilled and yearns to explore the world beyond the fence of bones around the house. Marinka is an extremely stubborn character and she starts to defy and deceive her grandmother, in order to experience a little of life, however this comes at a great cost. We follow Marinka struggle with the consequences of the choices she makes and share her sadness, anger, regret,
Death can be a difficult and scary topic for children and I believe as adults, we often try and shield them from it as we find it so upsetting to think about ourselves. ‘The House with Chicken Legs’ without a doubt, made me very emotional exploring my feelings about death, but also was very comforting at the same time. The point at which souls ‘pass on’ is depicted as a peaceful and gentle journey from one world to the next. Soft words are spoken, cheeks are kissed before they leave this world calmly and peacefully.
On a brighter note, your stomach will rumble at the mention of all the delicious-sounding Russian recipes throughout the book! Honey-soaked pancakes, steaming soups, cheeses, blinis, all washed down with a lovely cup of Kvass ensure that the story has that authentic folk feel whilst the music of the balalaika will warm your heart. Marinka’s relationship with her pet ‘Jack’ is also particularly charming. The book balances the exploration of light and dark themes perfectly.
Sophie Anderson tweets @sophieinspace
Other books by Sophie Anderson:
Coming soon! Available 1st October 2020