The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh, 2016
Children’s novel for grades 4-8: adventure, fantasy
The day after twelve-year-old Mary Hayes attempts to escape from the orphanage, she is adopted by an old lady from “a land that was once next to Russia”, called Madame Z. Mary’s new home is everything she could have wished for, and the nearby village of Iris fascinates her. Iris is populated by fortune tellers, magicians, and the like, all of whom, Madame Z tells her, are fakes. Mary befriends a boy named Jacob, and together they explore Iris . But in the meantime, Mary discovers a secret about Madame Z. She is in fact a witch named Baba Yaga who eats children. Unlike witches in the stories that Mary has read, the Russian witch sometimes helps children, if they are too brave to be appetizing. Mary wants a home, so she decides to stay with Baba Yaga.
Based heavily on Russian folklore, this book is suspenseful and fascinating. Modern readers may find some of the folk elements to be bizarre, such as the witch’s flying mortar, the house with chicken legs, and the combs that produce water. But fantasy and folklore lovers will have no trouble suspending their disbelief enough to enjoy the story, and the likable characters (including Yulik the cat and Sivka the horse) round out the positive attributes of this middle-grade novel. For the record, I loved it; this is my favorite book of 2016 so far.
Additional information for teachers and parents:
Lexile score: 750L
Other leveled reading information is not currently available, but you can consult this chart for estimates. Look in the area of Level U and please keep in mind that these numbers and levels are all estimates and do not necessarily take maturity of content into consideration. This is an example of a book where the official reading level gears younger than the actual target audience.