Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Witches

Witches?  Who are they really?  Why do they have such a bad reputation?  Do they really eat little children? 

Today we will look at one stereotypical witch – Baba Yaga.  Baba Yaga lives in the forests of Russia.  Her home is a hut standing on chicken feet which kneel down when she is home making it easy for her to exit and enter her home, and stand up when she is gone so that no one else can enter.  The hut has the ability to turn 3600 in order to welcome her home.  She has a cat and a dog.  Her legs are bony, her teeth are iron.  Supposedly she eats little children.  She flies about in a magic mortar which she steers with the pestle.  She sweeps her tracks away with her broom.  So do NOT venture out into the forest alone!

Where did my knowledge of Baba Yaga come from?  Jack and Jill magazine.  Back in the 1950’s, the children’s magazine ran a series on Baba Yaga which my mother read to my sisters and me.  I was so fascinated by all the magical things that Baba Yaga had in her life, they have stuck with me all these years.

I used this knowledge when I was a librarian.  We were not allowed to tell witch stories for Halloween; so I got around that by using two books – one with the fourth graders and one with the fifth graders to prove the need for research even when writing and illustrating picture books.

The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg was my choice for the fourth graders.  We briefly discussed the witch trials in Salem as background for the story.  I love Van Allsburg’s wordsmithing.  If you've never read any of his books, do; they’re worth the effort.

Eric Kimmel’s Baba Yaga was my choice for the fifth graders.  Megan Lloyd is the illustrator of this book.  Ms Lloyd, I’m afraid, did not do her research before making her illustrations.  As you can see from the cover of the book, Baba Yaga is flying on her broom and is perched precariously on a small mortar while waving the pestle in her hand.  And, yes, she‘s pretty high off the ground.  Yet when faced with a stream and a grove of trees she cannot fly over them.  Inconsistencies.  The house on chicken legs has steps leading into it and therefore cannot kneel nor turn in any direction without tearing them off.

I have a Russian friend who is going to give me more insight into the story of Baba Yaga.  And I love Patricia Polacco’s version of Babuska Baba Yaga. 

Witches are not all bad.  Sometimes they just know more, and are more in touch with nature than others; and long ago that was considered, by some men, to be a bad thing.  In some places that is true today.


Unknown said...

Hi there - I know not all witches are bad, yet when I hear the term, my mind automatically goes to the witch with the 'broom' for transportation. :)
@dino0726 from 
FictionZeal - Impartial, Straighforward Fiction Book Reviews

Sheila Arnold said...

Julie, the Saturday before last at the Stone Soup Storytelling Festival (Woodruff, SC), I had the honor to meet Baba Yaga in all of her wickedness through the voice of Donna Tillman, a younger storyteller (will graduate college next month). Wow! She told it with all the research needed and I am now a new fan of Russian folktales and of Donna Tillman. Thanks for bringing back a good (wickedly good) memory, Julie.

Stories by Julie said...

Hi Diane,
I think most people think of the witch on the broom, it's societal conditioning. :)

Stories by Julie said...

Oh I wish I could have heard her tell Baba Yaga! I have never actually told any of the Baba Yaga stories, I've just told about them.
Glad you had a wickedly good memory stirred up in your pot. :)

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