Review: Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola

Baba Yagas Assistant by Marika McCoola

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

A modern teen meets the legendary Baba Yaga in this graphic novel that mixes traditional Russian folklore with modern-day mixed families. Masha was raised primarily by her grandmother who told her stories of her own time with Baba Yaga in her house that walks on chicken legs as well as stories of other children who lived with the old witch. So when Masha sees an ad in the paper for an assistant, she sets off to take the job with some confidence, a lot more than she feels about her father’s new girlfriend and her daughter. Baba Yaga sets Masha through a series of tests like outwitting a huge bear, cleaning the filthy house, and even getting inside in the first place. But when the daughter of her father’s girlfriend shows up as one of the children ready to become Baba Yaga’s dinner, Masha intervenes and saves all of the children, even if they don’t want her help. But that act alone may have cost her the assistant position and her adventures with Baba Yaga.

McCoola’s story is a dark and dangerous tale, one that does not laugh at the legends of Baba Yaga, but instead makes her all the more frightening. Still there is a great sense of humor throughout. The story closely relates to other tales of Baba Yaga and her house. In fact, the characters refer to other tales, other adventures and use that knowledge to escape their situation. It’s a clever use of traditional stories to create a robust modern tale of adventure and magic.

The illustrations by Carroll embrace the darkness of the story. My advanced reader copy was entirely in black and white, so I can’t speak to the colors of the final version, but the drawings have a modern edge to them that makes them exciting and fresh. A different style is used when there are flashbacks to the other stories, making sure that readers know that it is a different tale. The final pages of my copy contain some character studies for the illustrations that make for fascinating reading too.

Dark, dramatic and great fun, this graphic novel is a memorable mix of old and new into something amazing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.