"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

More Baba Yaga

You can find more books about Baba Yaga in my first post: Tales of Baba Yaga.

Baba Yaga Baba Yaga retold by Katya Arnold, 1993.

Baba Yaga & the Little Girl retold by Katya Arnold, 1994.

Arnold’s Baba Yaga is a different story about the Russian witch than I have read to date. She based her tale on a story called “Tereshichka” collected by Aleksandr Afanas’ev in the mid 1800s. The child hero is Tishka, a little boy miraculously created from a piece of wood. He is warned by his mother to watch out for Baba Yaga, but the hag tricks him and takes him home to her hut to be eaten. He in turn tricks the witch’s daughter, with gruesome results, and with the assistance of an ugly gosling, returns to his parents safely. I enjoy the rhyming dialogue, such as: “Tishka, Tishka, bread and meat. Come ashore, it’s time to eat!” I would like to own this picture book.

Baba Yaga & the Little Girl follows the more familiar story of the cruel stepmother, her sister Baba Yaga, and the innocent girl whose kindness to the witch’s servants helps her escape.

Both books are brightly illustrated in the style of a type of 17th century Russian folk art. This is lubok pictures, hand-colored wood cuts. Arnold says, “The crude, simple shapes and bold coloring of lubok pictures perfectly match the mood and period of the Baba Yaga stories.” Therefore, Arnold created appropriate illustrations using black line drawings and gouache paintings. She’s made some fantastic pictures, like the hut on clawed chicken feet in the bending forest, surrounded by huge red mushrooms, Tishka resisting being pushed into the flames of the witch’s oven and Baba Yaga herself flying through the woods in her mortar, her green skin and hair making her seem a part of it. I agree with Arnold, these illustrations are perfect for the stories.

Matreshka by Becky Hickox Ayres, Illus. by Alexi Natchev, 1992.

This original tale is another story of a child, her protective doll and Baba Yaga, but Ayres has made the poppet a Russian Nesting Doll. The girl, Kata is given the doll, Matreshka, because she shares her food with a hungry old woman in the woods. Then, lost in the snow, she finds the witch’s hut. Baba Yaga is, as usual, up to no good, and she locks Kata in a room, hoping to turn her into a goose to eat for Sunday dinner. Kata can’t budge the door, but fortunately, Matreshka is small enough to climb out the window and open the lock. Each step of escape requires a smaller and smaller doll to help, but luckily, Matreshka is six dolls in one, and they know the perfect spell to turn a terrible witch into a frog.

It is notable that Ayres has added a benevolent crone to balance the evil Baba Yaga, and reduced the shock of her eating a child by turning the girl into an animal first. The witch is threatening enough, even so.

Natchev has used watercolor paintings to vividly illustrate the story. The cover of Matreshka shows little blond Kata peering around the solid looking chicken leg supports of the house and up at the wart-nosed Baba Yaga, who is looking out of her window with a dismayed expression. Natchev has made the most of animals in every scene, and children will find rabbits, deer, bats, crows and more appearing throughout. The cannibalism is further toned down here, as the skulls that surround the witch’s place are obviously from sheep, not people.

Vasilissa the Beautiful: A Russian Folktale adapted by Elizabeth Winthrop, Illus. by Alexander Koshkin, 1991.

This is a somewhat lengthier telling of the Baba Yaga tale, in the same vein as Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave and Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll . Here we have a beautiful maiden of marriageable age, endangered by her step family and rescued by a wise little doll. The lovely and blessed Vasilissa not only is kicked out by the witch, but due to her talent with spinning and sewing, goes on to marry the Tsar himself.

Koshkin’s art is especially outstanding. He has set the story in the seventeenth century and the art just glows. His Baba Yaga is a black haired mighty woman with pointed ears, a hooked nose and alarmingly long canine teeth. He also has dressed her in a cap with horns called a kitchka, which adds to her demonic appearance. The pictures that show Baba Yaga’s servants Day, Sun and Night are especially wondrous, with glorious riders bringing about their daily changes. My favorite is Night, galloping across the pages, trailing deep blue skies behind him, with gleaming eyed skulls and Queen Anne’s Lace in the foreground.

Vasalisa and Her Magic Doll adapted and Illus. by Rita Grauer, 1994.

This tale focuses on the love between family members. Two sisters, Svetlana and Vasalisa, live with their widowed mother on the edge of the Russian forest. When their mama dies, she leaves their home to Svetlana and a Magic Doll to Vasalisa. All goes well at first, but, Vasalisa is beloved by the villagers, and her elder sister is jealous. Angrily, Svetlana sends her to Baba Yaga’s home for light. Vasalisa’s doll helps her to find her way there and return safely home to her remorseful sister, the bonds of their love now renewed.

Illustrated in color-pencil.

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