After a few weeks away from the blog in order to get my allotment up and running for the growing season, I’ve really enjoyed being able to return to my towering book pile. The most difficult thing has been deciding what to read first, as the pile has grown exponentially over the past month, with loads of fabulous new stories added. I thus decided to read the book that has most heavily featured in my Twitter feed, so say hello to The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson.
Marinka is a young girl who dreams of leading a normal life. She wants to live in one place, make friends and go to school. Unfortunately, that is not her destiny, as she is expected to follow in the footsteps of her Grandmother, Baba Yaga, who is a Guardian and helps guide the dead on to their next world. They live together in a house with chicken legs, which takes them off to new places without any warning so that Baba Yaga can continue her work. As her Grandmother encourages her to get more involved with the Guardian role, Marinka becomes more and more desperate to change her life, but can she do so?
This is Sophie Anderson’s debut children’s novel and it is distinctly reminiscent of a Eastern European fairytale (think Brothers Grimm, not Disney…), which is not surprising bearing in mind the author’s Prussian heritage. Indeed, it is a reimagining of the Russian folk tale Baba Yaga, albeit well removed from the original. It is a story of contrasts: death and life; light and dark; and happiness and sadness, and is beautifully expressive and richly told. While the book features a number of themes such as companionship, self-discovery, loyalty and belonging, the key message for me is that life isn’t about the mistakes that we make, but how we deal with them and move on. The characters are all interesting in their own way, but my favourite has to be the house itself. Only in a folk tale could a house ‘speak’ through its actions, hold a person’s fate in its hands (OK, legs…) and possess a full range of human emotions – and still come across as entirely believeable!
The House With Chicken Legs has plenty of heart and soul, along with a touch of both the magical and the macabre – always the sign of a good folk tale. Is it the best book I’ve read this year? In all honesty, no, but firstly, I’m not a huge fan of this genre, and secondly, I do think that it will strike a chord with a younger audience. Aimed at the typical ‘middle-grade’ age group (9+) by Usborne, it would definitely appeal to those who love folklore or fantasy adventure.
The House With Chicken Legs
Author: Sophie Anderson
Publisher: Usborne (3 May 18)
Paperback: 336 pages