Children’s books helped get me out of a nasty reading slump earlier this year, but the one that really rekindled my love of stories was The House with Chicken Legs, it’s a fantastical story with surprisingly complex themes.
Marinka has always lived with her Baba (grandmother) in a house that has chicken legs and can go for a walk whenever it likes. Inside the house is a gate that opens each evening and lets the spirits of the dead move on.
Baba is the guardian of the gate, it is her job to help the spirits celebrate their lives and move on. Marinka is destined to takeover from her Baba, and become the guardian of the gate, but she struggles to accept her fate.
Marinka is not allowed to spend time with the living, or have normal friends. She can’t go to school or even live in a town with ordinary people. The House constantly moves from place to place, as it has to keep the gate a secret from the living. A fence made of bones is erected every time they move, and stops people from coming to the house. Each evening when they light the skull candles and open the gates, the spirits of the dead come forth to tell Baba about their lives before going through the gates.
Marinka struggles with her isolation. She yearns for freedom, to be able to go outside the fence, to meet living people and to have friends. Marinka’s only friends are her grandmother, the house, and Jack, her tame Jackdaw. She is starting resent her role as guardian in waiting And doesn’t want to waste time with people she will only know for one night.
When Marinka disobeys her grandmother and steps outside the fence to help a boy and his lamb, and nothing awful happens, she starts to rebel and push against her grandmother’s rules with unforeseen and tragic consequences.
This book is so full of emotion – joy, sorrow, the powerless feeling of being a child, the way that Marinka buries her head in the sand, when she knows she should do the right thing. The love for her grandmother, her house and Jack. The world Sophie Anderson created is rich, and completely real to me. I devoured this book in a day and it was an emotional roller coaster.
This book made me laugh, cry and remember how much I LOVED my grandmother. This book is wonderful, and would be a good read for any child, but particularly if a child has had to deal with a loss or grief, I think this story could be very helpful. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads, it is vibrant, sensory, imaginative, and magical.