Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction

BOOK REVIEW: The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

– Short Review –

The House With Chicken Legs is a wonderful tale about love, friendship, loss, grief and bereavement – all wrapped up in a fable like story. Sophie Anderson has woven such magic between the pages that one can’t walk away from this book without being changed. The theme of love transcending death, that death is not as finite as people imagine is strong within this book; it’s one of the facets of the book that has stuck with me long after finishing. The House With Chicken Legs is journey of discovery that middle grade readers will enjoy. The visual beauty of this book, the imagery Anderson uses and the themes that are conveyed make this a must read for thoughtful young minds who may have some questions about death or going through a bereavement, or trying to discover their purpose. Anderson deals with all these themes with great care and consideration making the book seem like therapy for the soul – an unforgettable tale that is a true joy to read.

Other books you may also enjoy What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen and Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian.

– Long Review –

Sophie Anderson delivers a beautifully crafted story and in doing so has created a fable like tale that will live long in the memory, incorporating a rich tapestry of imagery that sparks the mind and ignites the heart. The House With Chicken Legs navigates themes which are challenging at the best of time, but Anderson will have you eating out of the palm of her hand – as she regales you with this modern interpretation of Slavic folklore which is impossible to put down.

‘Baba used to say it’s not how long a life, but how sweet a life that counts, and I think maybe the same is true with friendships. I’m not sure how long I will get to spend with Benjamin, but I will appreciate the time I have.’

Anderson leans heavily into Slavic folklore (there is even a glossary in the back) and in doing so creates something fresh and untapped. It could have quite easily been a rehashing of a Brothers Grimm story as so many books are today – but with the Slavic folklore spin and the Slavic culture sewn masterfully into every part of the story, Anderson delivers a book that I truly believe will become a classic and win many an award.

As all great writers Anderson borrows from the source material mixes it up and comes up with a whole new beast. The character of Baba Yaga (Grandmother of Marinka) in Slavic folklore is known as a mean looking witch that lives on the edge of a wood, she has a large hooked nose and teeth that would strip flesh; but the Baba Yaga Anderson puts across is a little more cuddly and a lot more friendly – although we do get a glimpse of her odd appearance in a description by Marinka (a very subtle touch which I loved). Anderson has blending this source material seamlessly with her unique and engaging style and in doing so has created a smash hit of a book with imagery that is unlike anything I have ever read before and it will spark children’s imaginations for years to come – it is hard not to get drawn into the beauty of this story.

The House With Chicken Legs is a story that has everything. There are moments of trepidation and fear, moments of beauty and sorrow, companionship and loneliness – I think that the main theme that I took away from the book is trying to find your place in the world and in doing so finding what makes you happy – and once you do, cleave yourself to it. It’s a message I feel will resonate with many young readers, those who feel like they don’t fit in, those that are being bullied, those that are having a tough time at home or at school and those that are lonely. The House With Chicken Legs will give them hope, it will tell them that they are not alone, that the feelings they feel are legitimate…it’s OK to feel sad, but things will get better.

Anderson also deals with the themes of bereavement and grief beautifully with subtle references to the seven stages of grief – you have to look deep within the work, but it is there – Anderson delivers it with a masters touch, readers will hardly notice it’s there, there are no big words, no plotting it out, it’s just there…buried uniquely within the sublime storytelling.

If you would indulge me for a brief moment – her are the seven stages of grief that I found within The House With Chicken Legs – I may have got too carried away with analysing Anderson’s brilliance.

Shock

Marinka is shocked that the situation has happened, all consuming panic that she is now alone, devastation sets in about what is now expected of her.

Denial

Marinka continually believes that Baba Yaga will be coming back. Refusing to take up her new role as guardian – which causes the house to get sick. Many conversations with Old Yaga spring to mind here.

Anger

Marinka is angry at the whole situation and very angry that she has been forced into becoming a guardian; she didn’t ask for this and now it’s been forced upon her. She is so angry that she refuses to help guide the spirits – which has drastic consequences for the house and herself.

Bargaining

She begins to start bargaining with the house, saying if it will let her go off and make friends she will come back and help guide the dead and help the house get better, tricking the house into allowing her to do what she wants – manipulating the situation to fit her own needs.

Depression

When realisation sets in Marinka goes on a downward spiral, things don’t work out with her new friends, her life is falling apart, she doesn’t want to do anything and now is resigned to having to guide the dead against her will.

Testing

Marinka begins testing herself, searching and trying to do more than she is capable…she begins testing the boundaries of her abilities and the relationship she has with the house – trying to force her way into the gateway and recover Baba Yaga.

Acceptance

The Anderson wraps this all up with acceptance and the peace and hope that comes with such a decision.

The whole thing is bloody marvellous – it is a rarity to find so much hidden depth in a middle grade book, but this is written in such an engaging way, it’s like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I believe that The House With Chicken Legs will go on to become a tool for children suffering from grief or bereavement, self image issues, isolation and loneliness and for this I will tip my hat to Sophie Anderson and the remarkable book she has given to the world.

‘May you have strength on the long and arduous journey ahead. The stars are calling for you. Move on with gratitude for your time on Earth. Every moment now an eternity. You carry with you memories of infinite value, the warmth of companionship. Peace at returning to the stars. The great cycle is complete.’

The House With Chicken Legs is not just a book, it’s much more than that, it’s therapy for the soul – it’s limitations know no bounds, much like the house itself. It is a beautifully crafted, perfectly balanced, coming of age story, with themes that are relevant for every child today. If you love a book you cant put down and a book with a huge heart beating at its centre…then this is the book for you!

The House With Chicken Legs is published by Usborne Books and is available here.

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Sophie Anderson

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Sophie Anderson grew up with stories in her blood, from her mother, who is a writer, to her Prussian grandmother, whose own storytelling inspired The House with Chicken Legs. Now living in the Lake District with her family, Sophie loves walking, canoeing and daydreaming. She spends every spare minute reading, and loves to talk about books online, offline and to anyone else who will listen. Sophie’s dream is to create stories that help children to explore the world and fall in love with its beautiful diversity.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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