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BOOK REVIEW:

Finding Baba Yaga : a short novel in verse

Call Number: 
YA

Jane Yolen has been working as an author for over 50 years. She has published over 300 titles, ranging from children’s books to speculative fiction (both fantasy and science fiction), and to nonfiction. She is also a poet, an instructor of writing and a reviewer of children’s literature.

Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won numerous awards, including the Caldecott Medal, the Nebula, the Christopher Medal, the World Fantasy Award, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and the Jewish Book Award, to name just a few. In 2009, Yolen was the recipient of the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. For more about the author and her work, click  Jane Yolen

One of the things for which Yolen is best known is her work with fairy tales. Yolen reimagines, reinvents, fractures and rebuilds stories that are well known, or, at least, we THINK we know them. The results are usually something that is completely new, and often unexpected. She has been called, and deservedly so, the Hans Christian Andersen of America and, in Finding Baba Yaga, she mines ancient Russian folklore for contemporary meaning. .

A young woman runs away from her abusive family. Fleeing into the woods, she finds an odd house with chicken’s feet, a witch, and, ultimately, herself.

In Finding Baba Yaga, Yolen, weaves a tale that is both familiar and unexpected. The story is anchored by the character of Baba Yaga, a staple of Slavic myths, who is known to fly around in a mortar (guided by the pestle) and lives deep in the forest in a house that stands, and walks around, on chicken legs. While Baba Yaga is often portrayed as a witch, here she is more of a maternal or mentoring persona (although she still retains her supernatural powers) for Natasha, a young woman who gathers the strength to leave her abusive father and passive mother. Seamlessly blending contemporary settings and Russian folklore, Jane Yolen tells a story of harsh realities, loss, discovery and acceptance. The tale is told entirely in verse. While this fact may be off-putting to some readers, Finding Baba Yaga is an incredible, enjoyable read for both those who regularly read poetry and those who do not. Yolen’s verse is masterful, full of ideas and imagery that create entire worlds in a single stanza. Her language is wickedly sharp, eliciting breathless gasps and hearty laughter, often on the same page. Finding Baba Yaga is a marvelous read.

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