One of the most famous witch villains is Baba Yaga. You may remember the creepy Baba Yaga house on chicken legs. And that Baba Yaga eats children. If you want to read a Baba Yaga story about this wicked witch from Slavic folklore, here are great picture books and middle grade books appropriate for children.
Who is Baba Yaga?
Baba Yaga, depicted as a hag or crone, kidnaps kids to cook. Even worse, she eats children! The hut of Baba Yaga transports her anywhere, but she also can fly through the air in an iron kettle or a mortar with a pestle. You’ll find folktales and fairy tales about her in Slavic and Russian traditions.
References to this unique villain are everywhere in contemporary literature and film. In the John Wick films, the main character is nicknamed Baba Yaga, symbolizing his villainous characteristics. Similarly, Hayao Miyazaki modeled his old witch lady in Spirited Away after Baba Yaga.
The Baba Yaga stories were originally passed down orally. The first written story is reported to be Russian Grammar by Mikhail W. Lomonosov.
The Baba Yaga House
Baba Yaga lives in a hut on chicken legs that run fast to move the hut. The hut’s windows are sentient eyes and human bones, including skulls, decorate the top of the fence around Baba Yaga’s hut.
The Baba Yaga Story in Children’s Books
Alice Nizzy Nazzy by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Tomie dePaola
ages 4 – 8
What a fantastic New Mexico version of the Baba Yaga story with gorgeous southwestern art from Tomie dePaola! Manuela searches for her lost sheep and to find them, goes into Alice Nizzy Nazzy’s adobe home on roadrunner feet. Luckily, clever Manuela tricks the witch and escapes from being eaten. Phew. A delightful, must-read-aloud experience.
Babushka Baba Yaga by Patricia Polacco
In this Baba Yaga story, our main character is not a villain but a lonely old woman who wants a grandchild to love. She’s worried she’ll be rejected because of all the scary stories about her. But she disguises herself and ventures into the village. Will a child give not judge her by her appearance and give her a chance?
Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft
ages 7 – 10
Near the edge of Baba Yaga’s forest lives sweet Vasilia and her stepmother and stepsisters. (Cinderella!) Her stepmother sends Vasilia to Baba Yaga (Hansel and Gretel!), and Vasilia becomes a servant who must complete impossible tasks. With the help of her magical doll, Vasilia survives, and when her stepfamily dies, she has a happily ever after living with Baba Yaga and later marrying the tsar.
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll
ages 8 – 12
Courageous and adventurous Masha knows Baba Yaga from her grandmother’s stories. After her grandmother dies and her father remarries, Masha decides to become Baba Yaga’s assistant. To pass Baba Yaga’s tests, Masha uses her wits and the stories from her grandmother. She thinks she will fail when she rescues three children from Baba Yaga’s cage, but she passes. Excellent storytelling and illustrations kept me totally enthralled in this not-your-average-fairy tale story.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson
ages 8 – 12
Yanka leaves her foster mother’s home in the village when her legs turn into hairy bear legs and paws. Her quest for answers leads her to a wolf, a Yaga girl and mom, their Baba Yaga house on chicken legs, and her grandmother, the Bear Tsarina. It’s a Russian folktale-infused story with themes of family, belonging, identity, selflessness, and the power of stories that transports readers on an epic hero’s journey.
A Wolf for a Spell by Karah Sutton, illustrated by Pauliina Hannuniemi
ages 8 – 12
This is a mesmerizing story of a wolf who trades bodies with Baba Yaga and then ends up helping to save the forest and villagers from the evil Tsar Alexander. With themes of a family being what you make it, accepting your calling/purpose, friendship, and nature, this is a true gem of middle-grade fiction.
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
ages 8 – 12
Marinka’s grandmother is a Yaga, the guardian who travels the world to guide the dead. But Marinka is dissatisfied with their nomadic life; she wants a friend. She breaks the rules, and her grandmother disappears. Marinka becomes a Yaga and searches to find her missing grandmother. Marinka isn’t a sympathetic character; she’s selfish and flawed but does get a character arc, so by the end is a better person.
The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh, illustrations by Kelly Murphy
ages 8 – 12
I LOVED this fairy tale fantasy book — it’s a fantastic Baba Yaga story about a brave and smart orphan girl, Mary, who wants a home, even if it’s with Baba Yaga. She has to figure out how to be sure Baba Yaga won’t eat her, and she does so with help from her friend Jacob and MAGIC!
The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller
In a Russian-flavored fantasy world where the humans and birds are at war…the human tsarina has banned Yagas and their magic. Olga’s family is sent in disgrace to the edge of their kingdom and Olga discovers (to her horror) that she’s becoming a Yaga with magical map talent. When her younger sister is kidnapped by the birds, Olga leaves to find her sister, embracing her forbidden magic. Her dangerous journey won’t be easy — and if she uses too much of her magic, she’ll burn it out forever. An enthralling Baba Yaga story.