Huge thanks to Usborne for sending me both and proof and a finished copy of this book. It was a true beauty to read, but made even more special with the illustrations woven through the pages. I raced through this book, almost as fast as a house with chicken legs can run!
Twelve-year-old Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning. The only people Marinka meets are dead, and they disappear when her grandmother, Baba Yaga, guides them through The Gate. Marinka wants to change her destiny, but her house has other ideas…
This book gave me a little bit of a Studio Ghibli vibe. Of course, with the likeness to Howl’s Moving Castle, where Howl’s home is constantly on the move to different locations but also with Spirited Away, where a young girl unknowingly enters the spirit world and must do what it takes to save her parents and return to the land of the living. In this book, the dead are drawn to the house, where Baba Yaga makes them food, listens to their stories of life, and helps them pass on peacefully and with good memories in their hearts. The process of the Guiding truly is beautiful, and although the book isn’t narrated by Baba, you can feel her joy and thankfulness of being able to help these souls be at rest. Marinka desperately wants to change her destiny – she doesn’t want to guide the dead like her grandmother. She wants to have a house that doesn’t move around, and wants to be able to stay in one place long enough to make friends. When she does eventually manage that, the house hurries away again with another location in mind.
Based on Russian folklore, The House With Chicken Legs is an incredibly strong book. I didn’t know much on Russian folklore at all before reading the book, but this makes me want to learn much more. Themes of strength, self-belief and grief are all prominent here, and the book gives a wonderful message to its readers that it is perfectly ok to not know what you want to do for the rest of your life when you are still young. Marinka doesn’t want her chosen destiny, so she instead chooses to veer off course. I think this will resonate with kids who are perhaps worried that they need to have their future set in stone; the truth is, you don’t.
Although many middle grade books deal with friendship as a subject, The House With Chicken Legs touches on it nicely. You can be friends with someone, even if they’re far away. It also makes you think about spending time with loved ones, and appreciating the moments you have together. There was also a lovely quote relating to this; “Nobody is yours to keep.” Marinka makes some wonderful connections to others through the book, and learns to really appreciate every moment with them.
Final thoughts: A beautiful folklore reimagining with a wonderful message at its heart. 5/5