The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. Scholastic, 2018.
Marinka has lived in the house with chicken legs all her life, helping Baba Yaga. Others may see her as an ugly and dangerous hag, but Marinka knows her as kind and caring, if strict. Every day, Marinka repairs the fence of human bones and skulls around the house and helps prepare a feast of mostly Russian food for the spirits of the newly dead. Every night is a party as the spirits flock in, celebrating their lives, with Baba Yaga listening to their stories, helping them to distill what they’ll take with them from their lives as they pass beyond the Gate. Every few days, the house moves, so that they can help the dead from another area.
It sounds like a nice life, but Marinka is tired of not being allowed beyond the fence and of friends that last only one night and are rarely her own age. One night in England’s Lake District, she sneaks away, meeting a boy named Benjamin whose lamb she borrows for the night – only to have the house move away in the night. It’s used to Marinka spending more time with it, and jealous of her new friends. The more Baba tells Marinka that she’s destined to be a Yaga herself, the more uncomfortable she grows, until a series of bad choices lead her to a very bad place indeed, on her own and with no choices that seem good.
Marinka was so unhappy, and the choices she made so clearly leading her on a path to even more unhappiness, that this wasn’t the most pleasant of reading experiences for me. I appreciated that Marinka’s travels and attempts to make friends exposed her to people of many different cultures and ethnicities. But I really loved the world-building here, with an international society of Yagas in their sentient, literally globe-trotting houses, as well as the positive way death is treated, enough so that in retrospect, my overall feelings for the book are quite positive.
Try Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll for another fun take on Baba Yaga.