Baba Yaga’s Assistant
Author: Marika McCoola
Illustrator: Emily Carroll
Published August 4th, 2015 by Candlewick Press
ASSISTANT WANTED ASAP
Must have skills in hauling, obeying orders, cooking, and cleaning. Magical talent a bonus. Must be good with heights. Enter Baba Yaga’s house to apply.
Most children think twice before braving a haunted wood filled with terrifying beasties to match wits with a witch, but not Masha. Her beloved grandma taught her many things: that stories are useful, that magic is fickle, and that nothing is too difficult or too dirty to clean. The fearsome witch of folklore needs an assistant, and Masha needs an adventure. She may be clever enough to enter Baba Yaga’s house on chicken legs, but within its walls, deceit is the rule. To earn her place, Masha must pass a series of tests, outfox a territorial bear, and make dinner for her host. No easy task, with children on the menu!
Wry, spooky and poignant, Marika McCoola’s debut–with richly layered art by acclaimed graphic artist Emily Carroll–is a storytelling feat and a visual fest.
Kellee’s Review: I first learned about Baba Yaga when I was in middle school, and I learned about Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition suites based on paintings by Viktor Hartmann. Suite 9, “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs” was based off of his painting of a clock in the form of Baba Yaga’s hut. Because I liked the music so much when I first heard it, I wanted to learn more about it, and one of the things I distinctly remember researching was Baba Yaga who I found fascinating! I then was reintroduced to Baba Yaga when I was reading the Fables series by Bill Willingham, and once again I went and read all about her folklore. Which meant when I saw that there was an upcoming graphic novel, my favorite!, about her, I had to get it.
Marika McCoola’s retelling of the Baba Yaga folktales does them justice. With a mix of classic stories of Baba Yaga and McCoola’s story of Masha, the book does a wonderful job of introducing the readers to who Baba Yaga is at the core, a conflicted witch, and also puts a twist on it all. Masha’s story is more than just an addition to Baba Yaga’s story though. She is the star. Her story is a sad one, and Baba Yaga may just be what she needs. This text will really start some discussions around Masha’s family status and why Baba Yaga and her may just be perfect for each other.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Although it isn’t necessary, knowing the history of Baba Yaga would definitely make the reading of this text even more meaningful. I would love to have Baba Yaga’s Assistant during a traditional literature unit looking at diverse folktales and retellings of those tales.
Discussion Questions: Why was Masha prone to working well with Baba Yaga?; How did Masha’s grandmother influence who she is today?; How did the author intertwine traditional literature with a new story of Baba Yaga?; What do you think is going to happen next?
**Thank you to Candlewick for providing copies for review!**