Marinka lives with her Baba in a house with chicken legs which gets up and walks off to somewhere else without warning. This - and the fact that Marinka is a Yaga whose role is to guide the dead through the Gate- makes forming friendships difficult. When she meets first Benjamin and then Nina, Marinka's longing for a different life grows as she has a taste of the companionship she craves. However, things do not work out as she hopes and Marinka has to make many mistakes and face many decisions before she finds her role in life and happiness.
I love the Baba Yaga stories: the house with chicken legs; the fence of bones topped with skulls; the witch flying in her mortar, wielding her pestle. The stories about her are colourful and captivating so I was very excited to hear about a book entitled 'The House with Chicken Legs' and even more excited when one popped through the letter box.
Sophie Anderson has taken those traditional tales and woven her own threads to the tapestry of the tale. Marinka, her heroine, is seeking control of her own destiny- stepping outside the bone fence to carve her own future. As her story unfolds, she learns the importance of valuing what you have, but also the importance of moving on and letting go of the past. Stubborn and wilful, Marinka is also loving and loyal and her character is skilfully developed so the reader empathises and is infuriated by her in turns! The House itself is also beautifully drawn- full of personality and charm without uttering a word!
The book is beautifully written with rich language making it perfect for using in upper KS2, as a class read aloud, a main text or for guided reading. There are many passages to savour and enjoy, developing children's vocabulary, grammatical knowledge and love of a good book. Russian words scattered throughout the story could lead to developing children's understanding of that culture and its traditions, including the original Baba Yaga stories. And don't forget, the Geography programme of study requires children to locate Russia on a map of the world!
Although I have a proof copy, the cover illustration for the 'real thing' looks beautiful, offering intriguing clues to the story within, tempting those who recognise the Baga Yaga references and those who don't.
For a Year 6 teacher, this is such an exciting story to consider as a class text. There is so much work that could be inspired by it that it's a real gift!
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, cover illustration by Melissa Castrillon
Usborne ISBN: 978-1474940665
Publication April 2018
A book list of books and stories about Baba Yaga is available in the Members' Section of the website.