Category Archives: Fairy tales

The House with Chicken Legs

I rather envy Sophie Anderson her grandmother. Without that grandmother, we wouldn’t have had this quirkily titled debut novel, The House with Chicken Legs. But I can see that even without this marvellous story, Sophie’s Prussian grandmother would still be worth having. She was the one who brought with her, as one of very few belongings, a book of fairytales as she left Europe after WWII to settle in Wales, which is where she introduced Sophie to Baba Yaga.

A house that moves, and on chicken legs no less, felt vaguely off-putting at first. And I’ve never been sure of this Baba Yaga person. But I also knew I needed to read the book.

Sophie Anderson, The House with Chicken Legs

It’s a story about 12-year-old Marinka who lives with her grandmother, Baba Yaga, in this odd house, where they help guide the dead to the other side. Because of the house moving whenever it feels like it, Marinka doesn’t go to school and she has no friends. It’s really this which makes for the problems. Marinka wants to be normal, but her grandmother has omitted telling her one very pertinent fact that makes the girl even less normal than you’d think. (No, I’m not telling you!)

In a way this is your traditional tale of a child who wants something very much, disobeys old rules, causing something unexpected, and worse, to happen, and having to learn to live with the consequences.

I never expected to grow fond of a house. Especially not one with chicken legs. But when it…

Well, I’m not saying any more.

This is a warm and different story about finding yourself, and also about standing firm when you feel you must do something a bit different.

And all that food! I blame Sophie’s grandmother.

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The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Hilary McKay has re-written ten well-known fairy tales with her usual charm and warmth. I love them!

There is just one thing though; if you start a child off with these as their first fairy tales, I honestly don’t see how you can then give them a more ordinary version of the same tales later.

Sarah Gibb, Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales

I have read countless varieties of most of these stories, and they are much the same. Some are older and more traditional, while others might have been modernised and are easier to read aloud. But none are like Hilary’s, and I would love to read them to a child. And if it was a child who already knew the basic tales, I rather imagine they would experience the same warm glow from Hilary’s version as I did. That in itself could be a discussion point.

Let’s see, I especially loved Chickenpox and Crystal (that’s Snow White, to you), and The Prince and the Problem (The Princess and the Pea). And The Roses Round the Palace (Cinderella) and Over the Hills and Far Away (Red Riding Hood and the Piper’s Son).

And if I mention any more, it will look as if the whole collection was my favourite. I ‘quite liked’ all of them…

There is a flavour of the Casson family over these royal family tales. It’s nice to find that queens can be sensible in the Hilary McKay way. And to have a story featuring a noddle-offer is quite something. (I believe it’s what Kings use to remove the heads of Princes who have an interest in the King’s daughters.)

I absolutely refuse to tell you more about these tales. It would mean spoilers, and you don’t want that. You want to read this collection, and you want to come to it fresh, to see what Hilary has done with our old favourites. How she has made them into new favourites.

This is really something.


The illustrations by Sarah Gibb almost require a post of their own. They are the most glorious, traditional style, black and white pictures that you need for fairy tales.

And the cover! It incorporates all or nearly all the tales. You see Red Riding Hood, but you don’t yet know what Hilary has done to her.

Sarah Gibb, Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales

The ones not yet chosen

Is it silly to review a book you, my readers, can’t read? I’ve got so caught up with Maria Turtschaninoff that I’m not only working my way through her books, but I want to tell everyone else about them too.

Maria Turtschaninoff, De ännu inte valda

So to begin with, I’m simply glad I’ve managed to source her un-translated books, especially after my rant a couple of weeks ago. Of six novels, two have been translated into English. The other four don’t even make it into Swedish bookshops, despite being written in Swedish, because Maria is from Finland.

De ännu inte valda (The ones not yet chosen) is her first published book. It’s fairly short, and aimed at younger readers than Maresi or Naondel. While fantasy, it is half set in the real world, and half in some other place. We meet step-siblings Martin and Emmi, who really don’t get on. Each of them would prefer to be left alone; he with his mum and she with her dad.

But now the parents are going off, leaving the two with Emmi’s aunt. And as so often happens under these circumstances, a fairytale muse pops through the window one evening and the two children accidentally-on-purpose leave with her, and discover a whole new world.

It’s a story world, where the muses are charged with catching every inspirational thought authors have, and help them fill their stories with the right characters. It’s an important task, as it wouldn’t do to put the wrong characters into a story.

No sooner have Emmi and Martin arrived, than it becomes clear this world is under threat, and they realise that they are the only ones who can fix it. But they are still fighting each other, so first have to learn to cooperate, and that both of them can be right. And wrong.

This is a lovely story and it’s such an obvious plot in a way, that I’m surprised I’ve not encountered it before. It makes sense, because how can you leave characterisation to a mere writer? You want a specialist.

And needless to say, this is also a plot that urgently requires a translator.

Ash Boy

In Ash Boy for Barrington Stoke, Lucy Coats introduces us to Cinders the fella. She turns most of the traditional Cinderella story upside-down, in what turns out to be a really enjoyable tale. I mean, I object to the bad treatment of anyone, just about, but it’s quite satisfying to have someone other than a girl do some of the cleaning…

Lucy Coats, Ash Boy

Not only is Cinderella a boy, but I suspect an Asian boy, which brings another welcome aspect to this well known story. I can’t quite place it in time, as it appears both thoroughly modern and also several hundred years old. It borrows ideas from the fairy tale and the Disney film as well as the traditional panto. (Swedes have no Buttons, for instance.)

I digress. This is great fun, while obviously being rather sad, what with the demise of Cinder’s mum and the hardship he suffers, bullied by his step-brothers Rock and Boulder and their mother Mrs Karim.

And then comes the invitation from the Royal family, where the winner of the Grand Quintain Contest will be granted a favour of their choice by Princess Betony on her 14th birthday.

You can guess how it goes.

Did I mention that this is really fun?

Reckless and Swedish

Those Swedes are fortunate. Cornelia Funke has such a good relationship with her Swedish publishers that she wrote a short Reckless story, exclusively for them.

This does mean that most of you won’t be able to read it, but who cares? Strömkarlens fiol, en Stockholmsnovell, is sheer magic, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Set in the Stockholm of Mirrorworld we meet a new city. Old, obviously, but new to me. I think that’s the thing. Stories set in old Sweden usually don’t have this magical feel to them. This was as though Stockholm has grown up, and become a proper fairy setting like many others, all over the world.

Jakob and Fox travel to Sweden to try and retrieve a violin. It’s not just any old violin, but a real Strömkarl violin. A Strömkarl is that man who stands in a river/waterfall, playing and mesmerising those who hear him. And now one such instrument has been stolen, and a young girl’s life depends on it being found.

Short but exciting, with plenty of charm. I could read more of this kind of thing. And nice illustrations by Cornelia.

In the Land of Broken Time

Maria and Max Evan, In the Land of Broken Time: The Incredible Journey

This was actually a rather sweet and fun little story. In the Land of Broken Time: The Incredible Journey, by Maria and Max Evan and translated from Russian by Helen Hagon, is a picture book. I think. I have read it on the Kindle as that is the only format so far, and generally I find ebooks and picture books don’t work so well.

Hence a certain reluctance on my part to read them. Except in this case I felt there was something there, so I gave it a go, and I’m glad I did, as I really enjoyed the book.

The story is about Christopher who is ten, and who sneaks out to see the circus even though he is unwell. Doing so he comes across another sneaky child, the lovely Sophie, and they end up having an adventure, in the company of a speaking dog. As you do.

There is an air balloon involved and somehow it travels in time, and the children land somewhere different, where there is a time mystery for them to solve.

Maria and Max Evan, In the Land of Broken Time: The Incredible Journey

It’s old-fashioned and modern all at once. It’s like a typical fairy tale, but one where the children have mobile phones and access to Skype. And a talking dog.