Review: ‘Baba Yaga’s Assistant’
A little realism. A little creepiness. Fairy tale stepmothers and stepsisters. This book has a little bit of everything to attract all type of readers and will leave all of them more than satisfied.
Baba Yaga’s Assistant
By Marika McCoola, art by Emily Carroll
Grades 6 and up
Masha was mostly raised by her grandmother after her mother’s death. Her grandmother filled her head with stories of Baba Yaga, the evil witch who steals children and eats animals. Her grandmother, who had magic in her, told her about the time Baba Yaga kidnapped her and how she managed to escape. But Masha’s grandmother has passed away and now Masha, without a mother, without a grandmother, with only a father who is mostly absent, feels very alone.
When Masha’s father proposes to a woman and brings her and her soon-to-be stepsister home, Masha is very upset. The little girl is horrid and even tries to bite Masha. So Masha runs from home to answer a help wanted ad by Baba Yaga. To be the witch’s assistant, Masha has to pass some tests. She uses ingenuity, the knowledge provided by her grandmother, but most of all she uses her good sense. So when her final task is to cook the children Baba Yaga brought home for breakfast, including Masha’s soon-to-be stepsister, Masha must figure out what she wants and how badly she wants it.
Emily Carroll’s art adds the perfect touch to the story. The combination of realism and fantasy (a house with chicken legs, Baba Yaga, and Matryoshka dolls coming to life) in the artwork is spot on. The vibrant colors round out the work.
This is a tale that is rich with Russian folklore and deep emotion. Readers will plow through this story right to the end, and they might wonder if there was a chance for any more of Masha’s adventures.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Candlewick Press.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.
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