Monday, 18 June 2018

The house with chicken legs by Sophie Anderson

books set in Russia, Russian folklore

The Russian folklore and fairy tales have been a source of inspiration for many modern story-tellers. From the recent ones, The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter spring to mind.

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson (Usborne Publishing Ltd) is a captivating magic tale, based on the Russian folklore, and particularly stories of Baba Yaga.

I enjoy reading young adult fiction. Browsing new paperbacks at Waterstone's recently I couldn't resist the beautiful cover with the oh-so-familiar from books and films of my childhood image of the house with chicken legs. Elisa Paganelli's illustrations deserve a special mention, they are an organic part of the book.

This is an inspired re-invention of the Baba Yaga image. Baba Yaga of the Russian tales is an ugly scary old woman, who kidnaps (and eats) children and often tries to mislead the main heroes on their quest. Sometimes she shows a kind side, and shares her wisdom, and even gives a magic gift to the brave hero or heroine who visit her. She lives in a house with chicken legs. Baba Yaga is not your benevolent granny who wants to help you, out of a kindness of her heart.

That's why the re-telling and re-imagining of the Baba Yaga story by Sophie Anderson is intriguing. Her Baba Yaga might look the part, but she is a wise woman, who helps the dead and guides their spirits into the next world.

The story is told by Marinka, Baba Yaga's grand-daughter, a spirited and feisty girl, who dreams of being normal and making friends.
Marinka and her Baba live in the house with chicken legs, which has a mind and soul of its own. It is the house which makes the decisions on when and where to travel next. The house is a live organism which adapts to the wishes and needs of her adopted family.
When the souls of the dead arrive in the night, the house opens the Gate, i.e. the portal to the other world, for them. Baba and Marinka are there to celebrate the lives of those who pass through their house.
When Marinka was little, the house would play tag with her, build dens and playpens for her, tickle and make her laugh.
She knows her destiny is to become the next Guardian, just like her Grandma, but oh boy, how she resents it. She hates the idea of guiding the dead for the rest of her life, and tries to fight her destiny.

Marinka is feeling lonely, despite the love from her Baba, the house and her companion, jackdaw Jack.
She is delighted to meet a boy called Benjamin, and adopts a baby lamb. She craves human interaction, and wants to be friends with two girls, Salma and Lamya, who show her the nasty side of the human beings. And then there is Nina. Nina is dead, and she doesn't want to enter the next world, Can Marinka keep her friendship with the dead soul a secret? Sadly, this secret will bring on a great disaster.

This original story explores the difficult themes, like death and bereavement, and the meaning of life.

Will Marinka be able to break free?

In the last couple of years there's been an explosion of books about women who inspire us and rebel girls. Marinka will easily fit into the rebel girls category. She's a fighter, smart, stubborn, loyal and passionate. An ultimate heroine for modern times.


  1. I'd never heard of this folk tale but now I'm totally intrigued ! :)

    1. I enjoyed the book, it has lots of food descriptions. I think Juliette might like the story.