The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller
Text, 2020. ISBN: 9781922268044. 304pp.
(Age: 10-14) Highly recommended. I am a fan of fairy tales and folklore and was immediately drawn in by this imaginative and exciting tale of Baba Yaga, magic and maps. Olga is fascinated by the work of cartographers and loves to research their old maps and books. She longs to be a map maker but being a girl, this is denied to her. Nevertheless when her family is banished to the edge of the kingdom and her sister Mira is kidnapped by the bird army she decides to go into the Republic of Birds in an attempt to rescue her. But first she must learn about her magical ability to see into maps.
As the story progressed I was gripped by the story of the Baba Yaga, their magical abilities and most of all, the houses that they lived in and which moved around on chicken legs. Olga is not so thrilled to find that she is a Baba Yaga, as they are banished in her country, but she uses the skills she learns to go on an exciting adventure in search of her sister.
Descriptions of icy terrain, mountains and most of all the birds who inhabit the Republic of Birds are fascinating and make Olga's journey even more interesting as she battles difficult terrain and fierce birds to make her way to Mira, who is imprisoned in a cage and must dance for the queen of the birds.
Olga has always felt second best in her talented family, especially as Mira is a wonderful dancer, but her skills as a reader of maps and cartographer are what help her on her journey to find Mira and she realises that what she has is unique even if it is not as easily recognisable as the more overt skills of her family.
Readers will enjoy the richness of the folklore behind the story and helped by a map at the beginning of the book will be dragged into the adventures of Olga as she struggles across a difficult landscape. They may also enjoy Vasilisa the wise: and other tales of brave young women by Kate Forsyth. Teaching notes are available.