Johnson (Too Quiet for These Old Bones) says, in the foreword to this rambling, rustic yarn, that he "started with a couple of stock characters from Russian lore"the witch Baba Yaga and naf Ivan the Foolthen "added a pinch of tall tale, a bit of swapping motif." In the resulting goulash, gilded spires rise behind a green-and-yellow forest of birches, and Ivan pushes a wooden wheelbarrow down a path near the sorceress's log house. Baba Yaga is having a bad day ("First, she burned the breakfast critter... [then] she tripped and fell and broke her spectacles"). To the crone, whose blurry vision is suggested in Johnson's drawings by grainy colored-pencil rubbings, the lumpy dirt in Ivan's cart looks like a sweet pink pig. She acquires the imagined pig with a series of promises to the boy (e.g., a magic cabbage, a magic turnip). Thinking she's up to something, he helps her cook "a perfect pork stew," using the mud and vegetables. Russian elements surface (Ivan calls Baba Yaga "babushka"), but the locale could be any town, and Baba Yaga's hooked and warty blue nose, green tongue and black hair belong to a stereotypical witch. Johnson melts the pot perhaps too efficiently: he creates a predictable narrative that's derivative of Stone Soup, as well as a series of images that, while homespun, ultimately come off as uninspired. Ages 5-9. (Mar.)
- Janet Morgan Stoeke
Baba Yaga, an unlikable old witch, gets up on the wrong side of bed one morning. Her ruined vision (she breaks her glasses) and bad temper allow for a silly tall tale, mixing the Stone Soup story, Ivan the Fool and a few other folk-legend bits. Ivan ends up trading up from a load of dirt to a real pig, and confounding the silly and unpleasant witch. The illustrations are clumsy and add to the feeling that this book is mostly an unedited mixture of this and that, rather than the clever story it sought to be.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3One morning Baba Yaga wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, something "a witch ought never do." Her day worsens when she breaks her spectacles. When she encounters Ivan the Fool, he is pushing a wheelbarrow filled with dirt clods. Because she can't see, Baba Yaga mistakes it for a "sweet pink pig" and decides to have pork for supper. She threatens, cajoles, and finally barters with Ivan for the "pig." The result is a series of trades, as they each think they are outsmarting the other. In the end, Ivan does give her a pig, but she mistakes it for a pile of dirt clods and sends him away with it. That evening, she develops a stomachache and thinks that her "belches smelled a bit like a damp dirt cellar." This funny tale presents a benign witch who is rarely a threat to Ivan. The humor is reinforced through Johnson's comic illustrations. Executed in a loose, cartoon style, the watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations depict a snaggle-toothed hag with an enormous blue nose. While the pictures tend to be a bit inconsistent in their characterization and tone, they do an adequate job of conveying the story. The large size of the illustrations and the pure silliness of the tale make this a freewheeling and fanciful read-aloud.Denise Anton Wright, Alliance Library System, Bloomington, IL
Johnson (Farmers' Market, 1997, etc.) concocts his own silly story from the elements of Russian folktales. Baba Yaga is a witch who gets up on the wrong side of the bed, which skewers events for the rest of the day. First she burns the creature she's toasting for breakfast; next she breaks her spectacles. When she sees Ivan pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt up the road, her weak eyesight makes her think she sees a pig instead of a pile of clods. Longing for pork stew, she tries to trick Ivan into trading the "pig" for a magic turnip. When her stew tastes like the dirt it is, Ivan suggests adding a turnip. For his turnip, she trades with Ivan again, this time giving him a cabbage. And so it goes, until Ivan finally acquires a real pig, while Baba Yaga gets a belly ache, with burps that taste of soil. Johnson's tale entertains, while his fuzzy pastel drawings keep the wart-nosed witch from being too scary, and place the story in a Russia of onion-dome churches and countryside dachas. (Picture book. 5-9)