Home is Where the Chicken Legs Are

Home is Where the Chicken Legs Are
A review of Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll’s Baba Yaga’s Assistant (Candlewick Press, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille


Masha’s tale begins with stories from her grandmother about the witch Baba Yaga. Her grandmother was once kidnapped by Baba Yaga and had to outwit the witch in order to gain her freedom. Masha, delighted by these tales sees her grandmother’s life as one of adventure and wonders why she would have ever left Baba Yaga.
Masha’s father has recently been re-married and she discovers that although he never seemed to have time for her outside of work, he has time for his new wife and daughter. She feels out of place in her own home and when she runs away, she discovers a new home, but one that is unsettling and unsettled both by its strangeness and its propensity for walking around on chicken legs. Baba Yaga tests Masha to see if she is clever enough to get into her house before she is willing to take the girl on as an assistant. 
In order to cope in the fairy tale setting of Baba Yaga’s world, Masha must call upon all of her folklore and fairy tale knowledge to outsmart beasts, magic, and impossible tasks. Her life is one that has become enmeshed in the reality of fairy tales, shaped by their premises that have a logic all their own. 
Emily Carroll’s artwork weaves the mythical with the modern, blending the strange with the modern. She uses comic frames and backgrounds that meld and mesh the magic of a grimoire with the magic of needlepoint (an appropriate mixing because Masha tells us that her own grandmother acquired a needle and thread from Baba Yaga’s hut in her youth). For Masha’s remembering of fairy tales, Carroll switches to strong, simple colours with silhouette-like qualities to paint the tales with a sense of otherness and a sense of reverie. 

As much as this is a tale of wandering, it is also a tale of locating oneself, of finding oneself through tales and adventures. McCoola and Carroll’s Baba Yaga’s Assistant is a tale that reveals the power that fairy tales have to make us look at ourselves and our lives anew. It is a tale of self-discovery and a reminder that fairy tales can unlock doors of self discovery as easily as Masha opens the doorway to Baba Yaga’s hut. 
To discover more about Baba Yaga’s Assistant, visit Candlewick Press at http://www.candlewick.com/essentials.asp?browse=Title&mode=book&isbn=076366961X&bkview=p&pix=y 

Dreamy Horror

A Review of Emily Carroll’s “Through The Woods” (Margaret K. McElderry Books, Toronto).
By Derek Newman-Stille

“Through the Woods” is a modern day Grimm’s collection of horror tales, and it is wonderfully grim. Beautifully illustrated in an iconic fairy tale style, Through the Woods creates a sense of discomfort about the environments that we generally consider safe. From tales of sisters being led out of their home by a deadly stranger, to a wife moving into her husband’s home to discover pieces of his former wife spread throughout the home, to a tale of brother killing brother, to a best friend possessed, to family members filled with horrors, . The invasions in this book are bodily, spiritual, and violations of homes. The type of darkness the tales evoke is one that is close to home.

The graphic medium of these stories provides texture to them, a sense of closeness that makes the threat feel all the more real. Emily Carroll illustrates Through the Woods with a smoky quality that lets her stories bleed from the world of dreams into the mists that dwell at the edges of our vision. Words blur across the page, not generally confined to simple word bubbles or simple narration boxes, which are too confining for her style, but rather smeared across the page in a way that makes them part of pushing the action of the story forward. In some cases, dialogue is veiled in blood, part of a streak across multiple panels, tying the narrative together and breaking the simple borders of panels. There is a haunting, ethereal quality to these images which evokes the idea presented in the tales that horror lurks around us, insubstantial, but still hyper-present.

To discover more about the work of Emily Carroll, visit her website at http://www.emcarroll.com/ .

To find out more about Through the Woods, visit Simon and Schuster Canada’s website at http://books.simonandschuster.ca/Through-the-Woods/Emily-Carroll/9781442465954 .