Daughter of Baba Yaga

The Door by the Staircase, by Katherine Marsh, illustrated by Kelly Murphy, (Disney-Hyperion), 288 pages, release date 5 January, 2016, publisher recommended for ages 8-12

The Door by the Staircase is Katherine Marsh’s riff on the Russian tale of the witch Baba Yaga. The book has all the creepiness and unworldliness of the folk tale, but Marsh expands on it, giving us a cluster of engaging characters who all draw our sympathy—including the witch herself.

Young Mary Hayes is happy to be adopted by the mysterious Madame Z, a woman who appears “hunched, with a long nose and big ears that had clearly continued to grow while the rest of her shriveled.” Anything’s better than continued life in an orphanage. Yes, Madame Z is a bit odd, but Mary is willing to overlook her eccentricities. The home Madame Z takes Mary to is also odd. It’s located not far from Iris where “save for a few ordinary establishments such as a hotel and bank, the town was filled with storefronts that advertised the occult—from mind reading to magic to communicating with the dead.”

The novel has foreshadowing galore: Madame Z wants to fatten Mary up; Mary discovers she’s not the first girl to be adopted by Madame Z, though none of the previous adoptees remain; work gets done in Madame Z’s house as if by magic; there’s also the floor-to-ceiling brick over in the kitchen.

Mary and her new friend Jacob need to uncover the truth about Madame Z, and about the town of Iris, before it’s too late. Which of the town’s magical residents are the real thing, which are frauds? Can Mary and Jacob get the help they need before Madame Z gets hungry? Why can’t Mary get into the door by the staircase? (When she tries, the lock bites her finger!)

The Door by the Staircase‘s mix of terror and humor should prove a real delight for grade school aged readers.

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