My House has chicken legs. Two or three times a year, without warning, it stands up in the middle of the night and walks away from where we have been living. It might walk a hundred miles, or it might walk a thousand, but where it lands is always the same. A lonely, bleak place at the edge of civilization.
(The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Andersen. P7.)
Marinka’s house has chicken legs. Marinka dreams of a normal life, where she stays in one place long enough to make friends, but that is impossible. Her grandmother is Baba Yaga. It is her job to guide spirits from the world of the living to the next work. Marinka is destined to become the next Yaga, and follow in her grandmother’s footsteps.
Marinka sets out to change her destiny, but her house has other ideas.
This book appeared on my Twittersphere sometime last year. It sounded intriguing. How can you not be intrigued by a house with chicken legs? Now I have read the story, I can confirm it is more than cute or intriguing. It is one of the best fairytales I have ever read and is going on my list of ultimate middle-grade novels.
I fell in love with the world straight away – a world where the newly dead are comforted by a spirit guide who listens to their stories and feeds them up for the journey ahead. I loved the idea of a child caught between respect for these traditions, and tedium at the lack of living companions. I loved the jackdaw and the fence of bones and the traditional dinner. It was a world I could imagine with all my senses.
We know straight out what Marinka wants. She wants friendship, and routine, and all those other things people who live in normal buildings have. She ventures into the world of the living in a bid to change her destiny. Her story will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered whether their future is set in stone.
The other big theme is mortality. It is lovely to see a children’s book about death which is not centered around the death of one person. Death is the one inevitability, and yet it is something we are uncomfortable talking about. This book will open up conversation about appreciating the people around us, and living our lives in the moment.
Sophie Anderson’s writing is beautiful. From the opening words, My House Has Chicken Legs, you will be drawn into the story’s spell. A masterful debut, and a wonderful piece of work.