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by Gregory Maguire
published by Candlewick
I received this book from Candlewick in exchange for an honest review.
The BlurbElena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family destined to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg — a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena’s age. When the two girls’ lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and — in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured — Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.
My Two Cents
I didn't know what I was getting into when I began reading this book. The blurb doesn't even hint at the twists and turns and crazy adventure of Elena and Ekaterina. I became engrossed by their characters and the polar opposite lifestyles of each girl. I'm not ashamed to say I was very much biased and my allegiance was to one girl in particular, but as the story unfolded I flip flopped several times! One opinion of mine never changed, however--I loved the character of Baba Yaga from the get go!
This book is definitely for older middle grade readers and up. It takes a certain level of understanding to "get" all the themes and layers within the story. The historical and mythical elements of the book are so well woven into the story. Russian folklore is worked in flawlessly and the world building is so good that by the end, you see nothing strange about seeing a Firebird or a living matryoshka doll. I also appreciated the fantastic vocabulary used by Maguire. He didn't dumb anything down for a younger audience, and I must admit I even looked up a word or two!
So you want to know more about Russian myths & customs?
If you are homeschooling, or just interested in Russia, these resources are fun to discuss with younger kids.
If you want to know more about the myth of Baba Yaga, THIS is really informative. There is also a cute picture book entitled Babushka Baba Yaga by Patricia Polacco, that tells an alternative tale of this mythical witch.
Matryoshka Dolls are also called Nesting Dolls and have become synonymous with Russia. Introduced in the late 1800's, they are the symbol so many of us identify as uniquely Russian--plus they are super cute!
Activity Village has a cute matryoshka doll craft HERE.
About the Author
Gregory Maguire is an American author, whose novels are revisionist retellings of children's stories (such as L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into Wicked). He received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Tufts University, and his B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany. He was a professor and co-director at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature from 1979-1985. In 1987 he co-founded Children's Literature New England (a non-profit educational charity).
Maguire has served as artist-in-residence at the Blue Mountain Center, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Hambidge Center. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts. (from Goodreads)