Monday, 28 May 2018

Why Primary Teachers Need To Know About Metacognition

Sir Kevan Collins introduces the EEF’s latest guidance report on metacognition and self-regulated learning with these words:

‘…with a large body of international evidence telling us that when properly embedded these approaches are powerful levers for boosting learning, it’s clear that we need to spend time looking at how to do this well.’

And if the focus here is on embedding and spending time on metacognitive approaches then there are surely strong implications for primary schools. In order for these learning habits (which research says are highly effective) to be embedded, we who are involved in primary education should be thinking about our role in their early development.

Continue reading here: https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2018/05/28/metacognition-in-primary/

The EEF's Metacognition and Self-Regulation guidance report can be downloaded here: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/metacognition-and-self-regulated-learning/

Monday, 21 May 2018

Guest Post: Who Gets to Tell the Story? Empathy vs Exploitation by Victoria Williamson


In today's guest blog post, and as part of her blog tour, Victoria Williamson, author of 'The Fox Girl and The White Gazelle' (see my review), discusses how stories can help children to understand things from the perspective of others. In her own book the story is told by two characters, each with their own point of view on the same events - this device is a helpful way into exploring how different people see and interpret the same events differently.

In a world of competing twenty-four hour news channels, adverts and infomercials that stretch the definition of truth, scientific data sponsored by self-interested corporations, and ‘fake news’ pedalled on Facebook and Twitter with countless celebrity ‘likes’, how do we separate the fact from the fiction, the objective reality from the subjective opinion?

Learning to sift through all of the available sources and select the most reliable ones is a vital skill for students to learn. One of the best ways to introduce them to this is through fiction. Children’s books are full of unreliable narrators, characters who see the world only from their point of view and get things wrong as a result. Caylin and Reema in The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle are no exception. Seen though Reema’s eyes, Caylin is a mean school bully, a talentless thug and an untrustworthy thief with no redeeming qualities. From Caylin’s point of view, Reema is a foreigner who speaks a strange language and eats weird food, an outsider she couldn’t possibly have anything in common with. At first their own prejudice colours every interaction, to the point where they experience the same events in completely different ways.

In Chapters 16 and 17 Caylin and Reema race each other in gym class, and both come away with a very different opinion of how that race turned out. Reema thinks:

I have won. I have proved to them all that I am the White Gazelle, and I am fast.
Caylin may be faster than me over a short distance, but that is alright, because I am stronger.
I will always outrun her in the end.

While Caylin says:

I totally beat her. If Miss Lindsey hadn’t made us run a stupid marathon instead of a straight race then I would’ve crossed the finish miles ahead of Reema.
It wasn’t a fair contest.
            [...] As long as I know I can outrun Reema, that’s all that matters.

It’s only when the two girls overcome their initial mistrust and start to work together to look after the family of foxes in the back yard of their apartment building that they realise they’re not so very different after all. It’s only by sharing their experiences with each other, and looking at the world from the others’ point of view, that they come to see the whole picture.

When discussing refugee issues in the classroom, the ‘whole picture’ exercise is a very useful one to get students thinking about who is being allowed to tell the story, and whose point of view is being left out entirely. I ask groups to look at a picture that is half covered with paper, and ask them to describe what they think the other hidden half looks like. The most useful picture for this exercise is the Reuters photograph by Jose Palazon showing golfers on an expensive course in Spain on one side, while migrants attempting to make it across the Spain-Morocco border to start a new life in Europe are seen climbing the high fence in the background. When the background is covered and we only see the point of view of the golfers, it looks like a beautiful, tranquil scene on a plush course lined by palm trees. Only when it is seen from the point of view of the migrants perched precariously on top of the fence does the difference in wealth, situation and life chances become clear.

This exercise is a great introduction to further activities looking at newspaper headlines and news stories. Who is telling the story? Is it written from the point of view of a resident of that country or a displaced person seeking a refuge? Is it sympathetic or hostile? Is the story being told with empathy, or is it exploitative, full of click-bait headlines and inflammatory phrases to draw readers in, regardless of the dehumanising effect this has on the people being described?

As teachers we need to ensure that students have access to a wide range of sources in our classes that describe historical and current affairs events from all points of view, not just the mainstream or ‘accepted’ version. As authors, we have a duty to represent a range of different characters and voices in our books, and not always default to writing characters just like us whose life experiences mirror our own. The ability to empathise with others may be something we are all born with, but like most skills, it has to be nurtured and practised. It’s only by seeing the world through the eyes of others that we get to exercise this important skill fully, and reading fiction with a diverse range of characters and voices is one of the best places to begin.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Competition! Win A Signed Set of Chris Riddell's Ottoline Books And A Signed Print!


After discovering it on our bookshelves, my two eldest daughters devoured 'Ottoline Goes To Sea' - my 6-year-old read it in one day! With them desperate to read more, I borrowed a copy of 'Ottoline and the Yellow Cat' from the school library which they read just as quickly. Pocket money was quickly pooled in order to buy 'Ottoline Goes to School'. Safe to say, my girls just love Chris Riddell's fantastic illustrations and leftfield stories. I asked them to write me a little about their thoughts on the Ottoline series:
"I like reading Ottoline books because they are interesting and fun, my daddy is ordering the last one: Ottoline and Purple Fox. I really like Ottoline because she is really confident to go on adventures with people and she really wants to go to school to see her best friend." - Amelie, age 6 
"My sister and I have enjoyed all of them apart from Ottoline and the Purple Fox because we haven’t read it yet. I loved Ottoline Goes To School, it was amazing! Chris Riddell is an excellent author!" - Isla, age 7
Can you tell they'd both quite like to read 'Ottoline and the Purple Fox'?!

Ottoline and the Purple Fox has finally arrived in paperback and is the fourth book to be released in the Ottoline series, promising to delight both new and established fans with another quirky tale of friendship, fun and imagination, featuring some of Chris Riddell’s best-loved characters. The series has won numerous awards including the Nestlé Smarties Prize and the Red House Children’s Book Award, and has won critical acclaim thanks to its beautiful and heart-warming illustrations, paired with a humorous text. 

Ottoline and the Purple Fox is available in paperback from the 17th May 2018, £6.99 and also available in hardback, £10.99.

To be in with a chance of winning a full set of the paperbacks signed by Chris Riddell himself AND a signed print of the series' heroes Ottoline and Mr. Munroe head over to Twitter to enter the competition! https://twitter.com/thatboycanteach/status/998105106188062721


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Book Review: 'The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle' by Victoria Williamson

'The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle' deserves to be one of 2018's most lauded books. Tackling racism, discrimination and bullying head-on in a book aimed at upper primary children is no mean feat, but Victoria Williamson does it with great sensitivity.

Reema and Caylin both have their back stories. One is a refugee from Syria, the other lives with her alcoholic mum and is the school bully. Reema pines for home, is worried about her missing brother and is having to start a new school and learn a new language. Caylin looks after her mum, wishes her mum would look after her and feels like she is no good at anything. But they happen to be neighbours and an unlikely friendship develops. But Williamson writes the slowly-flourishing relationship in such a convincing way that 'unlikely' becomes 'blindingly obvious'.

This is achieved by the back-and-forth nature of the story's narration. The girls take it in turn to tell their side of the story, the reader in the middle willing them both to discover their commonalities: they are both unknowingly looking after the same injured fox; they both love, and excel at, running; more importantly, they both desperately need a friend.

With some very stark and honest passages, this book pulls no punches. Clearly Williamson believes that children can hack the reality - a racist criminal setting his dog on Reema for wearing her hijab is not just a fictional occurrence. For children to really grasp the desperate plight of those subject to racism in the UK, such parts of the book are essential. However, the book almost glows with hope and optimism, even at the moments when it seems like things can't get any worse.

And it is not just empathy for Reema as a refugee that is important. Caylin's character is written in such a way that light is shed on the background of a child in need; a child whose needs manifest in bad behaviour. Children with a more privileged upbringing need to empathise with children less fortunate than themselves just as much as they need to empathise with those fleeing violence and oppression (and so do teachers).

This is a book that I wish every child would read. Politically and socially our children need to be living out the story in this book if the world is going to have any sort of peaceful future. The book's dual message that differences ought to be celebrated and common ground should be sought is too important for this generation to miss out on. Books such as this are a safe space in which to explore the everyday issues that children might face - we must get these books into their hands.

Perfect Partners:

'All The Things That Could Go Wrong' - Stuart Foster - another story narrated in turn, this time by two boys, one with challenging life circumstances and one with OCD, who eventually become friends
'Dear World' - Bana Alabed - this autobiography of a Syrian refugee will help children get a feel for what Reema has escaped
'Oranges In No Man's Land' - Elizabeth Baird - a fictional account of life as a child in a war zone; another opportunity for children to consider the horrors of war that refugees flee

Monday, 14 May 2018

Teaching Reading Comprehension: Modelling and Practice (Example Lessons)

I’ve been thinking, reading and writing a lot lately about how we teach reading strategies and skills in primary schools. I won’t bore you with all the details but thought I’d simply share some lessons that I’ve prepared for some year 3 teachers at the schools I work in. If you want to find out more about what I’ve been discovering, and the thinking behind the lessons I’ve planned, I’ve provided some links at the end of this blog post.

These lessons, although not fully-formed (I didn’t want to dictate everything), are a good representation of how I think teachers should model the use of reading strategies and skills in a lesson and how children can be given practice of using the same strategies and skills that their teachers have modelled. The lessons involve both opportunities for oral and written comprehension activities; the written activity can just as well be worked on orally, although it is designed so that children can work on it independently by giving written answers.

Some of the lessons you will see here were based on versions of Aesop's Fables written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, published by Orchard Books. Although the book hadn't been chosen with inference-making in mind, it was serendipitous that there were plenty of opportunities to focus a few lessons on that particular skill. Hopefully these examples will show that, even whilst having a focus on a particular strategy or skill, other strategies and skills might be used in support whilst developing the skill which is the focus of the lesson (in this case inference-making).

For each lesson I outlined the L.O. (based on the National Curriculum POS for year 3/4 in this instance) and some introductory questions and items for discussion:



I then suggested some exemplar questions for the teacher to model which focus on the lesson's L.O.:

All of the above could be done as a whole class reading lesson, or as a guided group. The point of all of the above is to have discussions about the text and to orally develop strategies such as clarifying (what do the words mean?) and inferencing (why do the characters do what they do?). The intention is that children will then be better prepared to have a go at some similar questions themselves without the teacher having already answered them by way of demonstration.

In this particular example the questions are focused around multiple choice answers with the hope that children will consider each option in order to decide whether or not it is good evidence for the character's motives. Notice that not all the questions are inference questions; other questions are asked which might support the child's understanding so that they are able to make the more difficult inferences (see my blog posts on scaffolding for more information on this idea).




For more information on the symbols/colours use in this example, please read the following: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2016/12/reading-roles-cognitive-domains-made.html

This part of the lesson could be done as an independent written activity or as part of a guided group. The multiple choice questions should spark some good discussion about why the correct one is correct and about the reasons children have for selecting their answers. If this was being completed as an independent written task there is the potential for a follow-up written task asking children to give their reasons for their selection.

Following this, and in order to practice another strategy, I suggested the following:

The following lesson follows a similar structure:




You can download these resources on TES - they are editable so even if you don't have the book, you can use the activities as a template: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/aesop-s-fables-reading-comprehension-teacher-notes-and-pupil-activities-11900274

These two lessons represent the first two in a potential sequence where children might move beyond being given multiple choice options. In another sequence of lessons based on David Almond's 'My Dad's A Birdman' children moved onto giving spoken and written answers to inference questions (which throughout the sequence all focused on characters' actions only). To begin with they answered questions with a structure that had been provided and modelled to them, as exemplified in the teacher notes:


They then answered their own questions. Again, this could be done independently, collaboratively or as part of a guided group with a teacher:

The children spent two lessons practising this before being shown how to further add to their answer, as demonstrated in the teacher notes:


The children then practised using this addition to the answer structure (although they only practised one as this was a chance for teachers to assess children's attempts at what is quite an advanced skill for year 3 children):

In the sequence of lessons on My Dad's a Birdman children spent 5 sessions focusing just on making inferences about character's actions followed by another 5 sessions focusing on making inferences about characters' feelings. For more on why there was such a sustained focus please read my blog post entitled 'Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making'. Along the way the children also exercised other reading comprehension strategies and skills in order to support their inference making and general understanding of the text. They also spent time just reading the book and enjoying - teachers and children alike kept telling me how much they loved the book. The fact that they had spent time completing such activities as outlined above enabled them to enjoy the book, rather than spoiling their enjoyment of it.
See my blog post entitled 'Giving the Gift of Reading: Activities That Promote Reading for Pleasure' for more on this.

You can download these resources on TES - they are also editable so even if you don't have the book, you can use the activities as a template: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/inference-questions-for-my-dad-s-a-birdman-by-david-almond-chapters-1-to-10-inc-teacher-notes-11842172

Further reading from my blog on teaching reading in primary schools:

Teaching Reading: A Simple Approach
Reading Roles: Elements Of The Content Domain Made Memorable
Reading Roles PLUS: Teaching Metacognitive Reading Comprehension Strategies (not exemplified in this blog post)
Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making
Should We Teach Reading Strategies In Isolation Or In Combination?

Monday, 30 April 2018

Reading Roles PLUS: Teaching Metacognitive Reading Comprehension Strategies

Reading Roles PLUS is a resource designed to aid children’s metacognition when reading. Metacognition can be defined simply as ‘thinking about thinking’. Reading Roles PLUS takes familiar job titles and assigns them to reading strategies and skills thus giving children an easy-to-refer-to system for being more deliberate with their thinking during reading, with the ultimate goal of being able to comprehend texts. Alongside the job title (or role) there is a symbol which can be used as a further way to prompt certain kinds of thinking – some children may find these easier to remember. The Reading Roles developed from the areas of the content domain in the KS2 test framework are also colour-coded in order to be another memory aid (more information here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2016/12/reading-roles-cognitive-domains-made.html).

Each of the Reading Roles promotes a different metacognitive strategy which children can actively use as they read. Below is a summary of each strategy but for more details and ideas a quick google search will arm you with plenty more information – these strategies are well-known and borne out by research.

To download this blog post as a PDF as well as other supporting materials, including an outline of all the Reading Roles please visit my TES resources page: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/reading-roles-plus-teaching-metacognitive-reading-comprehension-strategies-11890964

Student – clarifying/monitoring

This Reading Role encourages children to stop and think about things that they don’t immediately understand. Some children are content to skip over what they don’t understand which can lead to holes in their understanding – this strategy helps to avoid that happening.

Children should be taught to identify and parts of text that they need to clarify and then to do something to help their understanding. To do this they can:
  • Ask questions of themselves, such as: What does this word mean? How can I find out its meaning? What does this phrase mean in this context?
  • Re-read the parts they didn’t understand (sometimes reading out loud or hearing it read aloud will help them to understand something better)
  • Read ahead to see if it brings clarity to the parts they didn’t understand
  • Ask others for help
  • Begin to read more slowly and carefully
Professor - using prior/background knowledge

As this article points out ‘We've had our share of lively debates in the field of reading, but not on this particular topic: background knowledge. There is a virtual consensus that background knowledge is essential for reading comprehension.’ When we read we need background knowledge of word and phrase meanings, text type and for making inferences.

D.T. Willingham gives good examples of how having background knowledge is essential to comprehension. Look at the following excerpt:

“John’s face fell as he looked down at his protruding belly. The invitation specified ‘black tie’ and he hadn’t worn his tux since his own wedding, 20 years earlier.”

Of this he writes:

‘…. [having] background knowledge …means that there is a greater probability that you will have the knowledge to successfully make the necessary inferences to understand a text (e.g., you will know that people are often heavier 20 years after their wedding and, thus, John is worried that his tux won’t fit).’ (https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/spring-2006/how-knowledge-helps)

This strategy can be employed easily in the classroom by asking questions such as:
  • What information do you already know about…?
  • Where have you seen something like this before?
  • What prior knowledge do you have that has helped you to understand? Where did this prior knowledge come from? Experience? Another book? A film?
Encouraging children to think deliberately about connections they are making should eventually lead to this strategy being an automatic skill.

There is an overlap with this Reading Role and others, most notably Translator – vocabulary and Interpreter – authorial intent. It helps to have prior knowledge of words and phrases in order to exercise these skills. The use of prior knowledge is also a significant component in making inferences (Detective – inferring).

Quiz Master – questioning

Questioning is a key part of other reading strategies which goes to show how important this strategy is for reading comprehension. Questions help us to engage with a text and this engagement leads to greater comprehension.

‘Numerous studies have shown that training students in self-questioning enhances comprehension (Andre and Anderson, 1979; Nolte and Singer, 1985; Palincsar, 1984; Singer and Donlan, 1982; Yopp, 1987). As Singer (1978) and Yopp (1988) have argued, the process of self-questioning, or active comprehension, facilitates comprehension because it requires students to use their metacognitive capacities and activates their background knowledge.’ 
(https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1459&context=reading_horizons)

In addition to questioning their own understanding of the text (see Student – clarifying/monitoring) children should be taught to ask questions about the text as they read. Examples of these questions might include:
  • What is the author hiding from me?
  • What is going to happen next? Why do I think that?
  • I wonder why the character feels that way?
  • What would I do if I was in that situation?
  • What other stories does this remind me of?
  • How does the author want the reader to feel right now?
  • Why did the character do that?
  • How will the character solve this problem?
It’s impossible to give a definitive list of questions that might be asked as every text should provoke different lines of questioning. The best way to teach this will be for the teacher to think aloud as they read, modelling the questions that they ask themselves when reading. The classic ‘W’ words are a good starting point for the development of questions about a text.

Director – visualising

Picturebooks are brilliant for comprehension – the pictures often deliberately give extra information that the text does not. Children who learn to read with picturebooks are usually quite good at using pictures to help them with their understanding. But what happens when they begin to read books with fewer pictures? They will need to learn to create their own pictures in their head, or ‘mind movies’.

This strategy is concerned with building a good mental image – the better a text has been comprehended the better the mental image (or visualisation) will be. But the act of deliberately trying to visualise a text means that readers are paying more attention and exerting more effort into the comprehension which actually ends up improving the levels of comprehension. This Reading Role could easily have been called Artist but stories in books are more akin to stories in movies as the story moves along.

The Reading Rockets website has a good example of how teachers might develop this strategy with children: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/picture-using-mental-imagery-while-reading

Philosopher – thinking

Asking and answering philosophical questions about a text allows children to engage further with what they have read. Doing this has the potential to improve comprehension for the same reasons as we have discussed under other Reading Roles: the deliberate act of thinking about what has been read can lead to better comprehension.

Philosophical questioning and discussion should encourage children to ask and talk about more open-ended questions – questions of morality, questions about life and the universe and so on. Often these questions will touch on curriculum areas such as religious education and personal, social, health, cultural education (PSHCE).

SAPERE’s Philosophy For Children, Colleges and Communities (P4C) resource website is a useful starting point when teaching children to think philosophically.

SAPERE outline that philosophical questions:
  • Should be open to examination, further questioning and enquiry
  • Can't be answered by appealing only to scientific investigation or sense experience
  • Are questions about meaning, truth, value, knowledge and reality
Many children’s books lend themselves well to asking questions that fall into those categories. Teachers can look out for opportunities but should also be aware that children might surprise them with philosophical questions prompted by what they’ve read, especially if they have been trained to ask them.

Click here to see Philosopher exemplified.

In addition to the Reading Roles outlined above, the following are also important reading strategies to teach:

Weather Forecaster – predicting
Editor – summarising
Detective – inferring (for more on inference click here)

For more on teaching reading:

Reading Roles Testimonials - find out about the impact from others who have already been using Reading Roles in the classroom

Should We Teach Reading Strategies In Isolation Or In Combination? - a look at how best to use the different Reading Roles in your teaching

Reading Strategies vs. Reading Skills - What's The Difference? - an exploration of the terminology used when discussing teaching reading

How to write good comprehension questions - advice on preparing questions to aid children with their understanding

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Guest Post: Vasilisa the Beautiful (on ambiguous villains) by Sophie Anderson

In which Sophie Anderson, author of the wonderful 'The House With Chicken Legs' (read my review here), writes about how in some stories, particularly where villains and heroes are concerned, things might not always be as they seem. In children's books I think it is particularly important that the concept of 3-dimensional characters and events are explored in this way, especially as it is more true to life. I'll let Sophie explain it better, with the help of a Russian fairy tale:

‘In a certain kingdom there lived a merchant …’

In this Russian fairy tale, collected and published by Alexander Afanasyev in 1855, a merchant has one daughter, Vasilisa the Beautiful.

When she is eight-years-old Vasilisa’s mother gives her a magic doll and says,

‘Remember and heed my words. I am dying, and together with my maternal blessing I leave you this doll. Always keep it with you and do not show it to anyone; if you get into trouble, give the doll food, and ask its advice.’

Then Vasilisa’s mother kisses her and dies. After some time, Vasilisa’s father remarries – a widow with two daughters of her own. Vasilisa’s stepmother and stepsisters are jealous of her beauty. They torment her and give her endless work to do. But, Vasilisa’s magic doll comforts her and helps her do the work.

Then one day, the merchant leaves on business and Vasilisa’s stepmother and stepsisters plot to get rid of Vasilisa. They snuff out all the candles in the house and send Vasilisa to Baba Yaga’s hut to ask for a light.

Vasilisa is scared that Baba Yaga will eat her, but the magic doll says it will keep her safe. So, Vasilisa travels through the forest to Baba Yaga’s hut, which is surrounded by a fence of skulls and bones.

Baba Yaga agrees to give Vasilisa a light on the condition she stays and works for her – and threatens to eat her if she does not. Then Baba Yaga makes Vasilisa serve her an enormous meal, and goes to bed, leaving Vasilisa with a seemingly impossible number of chores to do; including sorting a bushel of wheat.

Vasilisa feeds her doll a few crumbs and explains her troubles. The doll replies,

‘Fear not, Vasilisa the Beautiful! Eat your supper, say your prayers, and go to sleep; the morning is wiser than the evening.’

And in the morning, all the work is done. The next day, Baba Yaga gives Vasilisa another seemingly impossible number of chores to do; including sorting poppy seeds from dust. Once again, Vasilisa’s doll does the work for her.

Baba Yaga asks Vasilisa how she managed to do all this work, and Vasilisa replies, ‘I am helped by the blessing of my mother.’

‘So that is what it is,’ shrieks Baba Yaga. ‘Get you gone, blessed daughter! I want no blessed ones in my house!’ And Baba Yaga send Vasilisa on her way – but before she leaves she gives her a skull with burning eyes from her fence, saying, ‘Here is the light for your stepsisters.’

Vasilisa returns home, and is about to throw away the skull, thinking her stepfamily will not need it anymore, but a voice from the skull says, ‘Do not throw me away, take me to your stepmother.’ Inside the house, the skull stares at the stepmother and stepdaughters and burns them. They try to hide but the eyes follow them, and by morning they are burned to ashes.

The tale continues with Vasilisa moving to town, completing more difficult tasks with the help of her doll, and eventually marrying the tsar, but Baba Yaga does not feature again.

I love the Baba Yaga in this tale, as it is one of the first times I glimpsed the wise woman behind the evil old crone archetype. Baba Yaga’s role in this story is ambiguous, as she could be considered a villain, or a helper.

Although Baba Yaga gives Vasilisa seemingly impossible tasks to do and threatens to eat her if she does not complete them, ultimately Baba Yaga gives Vasilisa the burning skull that frees her from her evil stepfamily – the real villains in the tale.

In ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés there is a thorough and fascinating analysis of this tale, which Estés believes is rich in symbolism and metaphor.

Estés writes Vasilisa is ‘about the realization that most things are not as they seem’ and that ‘Vasilisa is a story of handing down the blessing on women’s power of intuition from mother to daughter.’

Estés describes how Vasilisa’s journey takes her from subservience to strength and independence, through facing fear and by learning from Baba Yaga, who represents the wild feminine nature.

This tale was the start of a long journey for me, which began with the realisation that Baba Yaga is not just the cannibalistic villain she is so often depicted as. She is a fascinating, complex character; a wild woman of folklore, fierce and formidable, watchful and wise. She can be a maternal benefactress or a dangerous witch and decides on a case by case basis how she will treat the visitors to her hut.

Her origins are ancient; linked to Pagan Goddesses associated with life, death, the forest and Earth itself; and the history of her portrayal reflects societies’ attitudes to woman and paganism. I am still fascinated by Baba Yaga and have found no matter how much I read, there is always more to learn about her, and from her.


Vasilisa the Beautiful and Baba Yaga, written by Alexander Afanasyev, is available in a gorgeous edition with Ivan Bilibin’s iconic illustrations from 1899, published by The Planet.

There is also a beautiful picture book of this tale, Vasilisa the Beautiful, written by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Anna Morgunova, published by Minedition.

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson publishes in paperback, 3 May, £6.99 from Usborne. Cover art by Melissa Castrillón and inside black and white illustrations by Elisa Paganelli.