Baba Yaga’s Assistant

Marika McCoola, illus. by Emily Carroll. Candlewick, $16.99 (136p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6961-4
Masha has lost her grandmother, who loved and nurtured Masha after her mother’s death. Her stories led Masha to believe that her grandmother had known the fairy tale witch Baba Yaga personally. So when Masha sees a newspaper ad asking for an assistant (“enter Baba Yaga’s house to apply”), she strikes out for the famous chicken-legged dwelling. The trials that Baba Yaga challenges Masha with allow her to work through some dark memories and offer a chance to resolve present-day problems, too, including the loss of her father’s attention to a new fiancée. Though newcomer McCoola’s dialogue wobbles a bit early on (“I’m tired of being overlooked. I need to do something useful for someone”), it tightens up quickly as Masha battles a bear, bathes a closetful of snakes, and sweet-talks Baba Yaga’s house into letting her enter (“I think the porch and stairs add grace to your proportions”). Carroll’s (Through the Woods) spidery, delicate drawings convey deliciously understated creepiness. Strong, complex characters and the inventive fusion of contemporary and fairy tale elements make this a noteworthy collaboration. Ages 10–up. Agent: Jen Linnan, Linnan Literary Management. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/25/2015
Release date: 08/04/2015
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