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MacMillan Books

My favourite childhood book was Ruth Manning-Sanders' Folk and Fairy Tales, a collection of stories from around the world. It was in "Vasilissa Most Lovely" that I first discovered Baba Yaga, a witch who lives in a hut and walks about on chicken feet. A witch who doesn't ride a boring broom, but who travels the skies in a giant mortar and pestle! This was stuff that excited my imagination.

So, coming across Jane Yolen's mythic novel-in-verse, Finding Baba Yaga, was like renewing an old acquaintance. Granted, this 21st-century Baba Yaga prefers microwaves to cauldrons and spends her days writing an advice column to the lovelorn rather than wreaking havoc. She likes girls (the sassier, the better) to keep her company and to keep her house. Boys, she likes for dinner (literally).

As in "Vasilissa," this story is more about the girl than the witch. In Finding Baba Yaga, Natasha is a runaway who's escaped an abusive home environment. Life on the road is tough, but Natasha proves tougher. Once she enters the woods, she's already on the way to finding herself:

The longer I am in these woods,
I learn words.
I become cornucopic
with language...
There's no one to caution my tongue,
no one to soap my mouth,
no one to bridle my brain.

Under Baba Yaga's tutelage, Natasha grows to accept herself. She learns to express her truth using words she was taught to fear. In the witch's chicken-footed hut, Natasha gets her first taste of independence and feels the first hopeless pangs of attraction when the beautiful Vasilissa briefly joins the household.

Finding Baba Yaga is categorized as young adult fiction, though it will appeal to readers of any age with an interest in fairy and folk tales. This is a novella told in verse, with each chapter comprised of several poems. Yolen writes with skilful economy, the poems by turns haunting and playful. This lovely little book is more a tasting menu than a feast. Those readers seeking unusual fare will find it easy to savour these poetic morsels.


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Author:Santiago, Sylvia
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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