Mini-Review: Baba Yaga, An Leysen (2016)

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Charming Illustrations and a Story That’s Suitable for Kids

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

A long time ago, in a land far away, lived a young girl named Olga. Ever since her mother passed away, it’d just been Olga and her father. But he filled her days with games and stories, and they always had food to eat and a place to sleep; things were generally pretty good. That is, until dad remarried.

Olga’s stepmother wasn’t just evil; she was a straight-up witch. Or the sister of one, anyway. Olga’s stepmother fed her scraps and made her do all the chores, all by herself. But Olga never complained, which caused her stepmother to hate her even more. One day, she sent Olga to her sister’s house to fetch a needle and some thread. What might otherwise be a mundane chore was actually a suicide mission: for Olga’s step-aunt was none other than the storied Baba Yaga, child-meat connoisseur. Luckily, Olga didn’t go into battle unarmed: she had a magical doll, gifted her by her late mother, to help guide the way.

I’m not super-familiar with the Baba Yaga fairy tale but, from my limited knowledge, An Leysen’s version seems pretty faithful. All the staples are present and accounted for: a flying cauldron (mortar) steered by a broomstick (pestle); a house that sits on chicken legs; multiple witchy sisters (possibly all named Baba Yaga; we never do learn stepmom’s real name); and the ever-present threat of child cannibalism. Despite these more maudlin plot points, the story is rather tame and suitable for children.

In fact, Baba Yaga looks more like a kindly old grandmother – a babushka or nonna, perhaps – than a mean old witch.

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The artwork is really quite charming, with a textured feeling that resembles oil paints on canvas.

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The colors are rich and vibrant, except when they’re not: some pages are much more muted and somber than others, which makes for a rather interesting contrast. Sometimes a single object is imbued with color, as if to draw attention to its import. Likewise, there are variations in the size and style of the text as well, to emphasize tone and volume.

Olga is adorable as all get-out – but my eye was really drawn to the stepmother who, with her purple, upswept hair and seemingly painted-on mole, bears an uncanny resemblance to Marie Antoinette.

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Between Baba Yaga’s slighted maid, cat, and dog, the story imparts a simple yet important message: always treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated, lest it come back and bite you in the … stomach.

Also, don’t eat children.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)