Thursday, October 1, 2015

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll

After her mother passed away, tween Masha was basically raised by her beloved grandmother, who used to tell her stories about her experiences as a young girl with Baba Yaga, the fearsome old crone from Slavic folklore who flies around in a mortar and pestle.  But when Masha's grandmother also passes away, she is left alone with only a absentee father.

Now, her father has proposed to the woman he's been spending all his time with, and who has a very bratty young daughter, Dani.  After being attacked and bitten by Dani, Masha decides to go for a walk and visit the cemetery where her mother and grandmother are buried.  While there, she recalls her grandmother's stories, then discovers a Help Wanted ad from Baba Yaga, who is looking for an assistant.  The ad finishes with "Enter Baba Yaga's House to apply" so you know this isn't going to be easy for Masha.

That night, after leaving a note for her dad, Masha sets off to find Baba Yaga's house located somewhere in a dark, creepy forest.  Finding the house, Baba Yaga tells Masha that in order to become her assistant she must pass a series of tests, but first she must find a way to get into a house which stands high up on long chicken legs without any steps.

Using flattery and cunning, not to mention a cherry lollipop for the keyhole, Masha finally makes it into the house.  There, she faces a series of very tricky tests - cleaning the house, caring for the pets and finally preparing dinner.  Did I say tricky tests?  Oh yes, and passing them won't be easy with Baba Yaga thwarting everything Masha accomplishes.

It is the third test that really taxes Masha creativity and ingenuity when dinner consists of three children, one of them her soon-to-be stepsister Dani.  Will Masha be able to trick Baba Yaga or spare the children and still get the job of assistant?

Baba Yaga Assistant is such a fun graphic novel to read and Marika McCoola has done a wonderful job of re-imagining Baba Yaga and adding to the tales people tell about this old witch and her tricky magic while retaining her nature as a fickle witch who may or may not help those who ask for help, but who will reward those who trick her.

Young readers who like their fairy tales witty and somewhat dark or who enjoy stories like Neil Gaiman's Coraline and The Graveyard Book, will find themselves attracted to and enjoy reading this book that mixes modern reality with old fashioned fantasy.  I personally don't think it is creepy, or scary, and kids will like seeing that even without magic,  Masha is a strong opponent to Baba Yaga's witchery.

Artist Emily Carroll has added to the story with her wonderful digital illustrations.  Largely using earthy tones of bright, light oranges and yellows for the reality of Masha's life, and dark ethereal  shades of greens and blues for the fairytale part of Baba Yaga's story, Carroll manages to perfectly compliment and highlight their differences, giving depth and width to the tale.

And as with all fairy tales, there's a lesson to be learned in the end.

Oh, you want to know if Masha get hired as Baba Yaga's assistant?  Umm...

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press


  1. Thanks for letting us know about Baba Yaga's assistant. Students who love scary stories are going to love this book - Can't wait to read it.

  2. Sounds good! I did enjoy Coraline previously and have been rather fond of graphic novels lately. I'll check BABA YAGA'S ASSISTANT out. Thanks!


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