Baba Yagah and the Children

Jack and Jill Magazine, May 1943Jack and Jill Magazine, May 1943: “Baba Yagah and the Children,” by Jenia Miller and Maria Van Vrooman, and with illustrations by Miller.

Jack and Jill Magazine has been running Baba Yaga stories since the early 1940s. I’m a massive nerd for Baba Yaga– if that isn’t already evident– and so I’ve begun an effort to try and collect all of the issues featuring Baba Yaga stories.

Baba Yaga flying in her mortar, from the May 1943 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine. Illustration by Jenia Miller.

It’s a lot of fun. They’re hard to find, but they’re relatively inexpensive. The fun of the research and the chase is deeply satisfying, and it doesn’t really cost me an arm and a leg when I come across an issue I don’t have. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a little worried that starting a series of blog posts about it wouldn’t make them harder to find, though.

Jenia Miller wrote many of the early Baba Yaga stories. This is the only one I’ve found that lists Maria Van Vrooman as a co-author. This is also the very first Baba Yaga story ever published in Jack and Jill, as far as my research can determine.

The first page of 'Baba Yagah and the Children,' from the May 1943 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine.

It’s an interesting story, as many of them were. It injects lots of interesting touches that I haven’t been able to find analogues for in the actual myths and legends of Baba Yaga, including the idea that she carried a lightning bolt around in her cloak, which made her look like a hunchback. It also introduces Baba Yaga’s cat, named “Stenka” in these early stories. Stenka, it seems important to note, has an eyepatch and a peg-leg. In later stories, the cat loses its name, the eyepatch, and the pegleg, which is somewhat disappointing.

Also for some reason, the early Jack and Jill stories called the main character “Baba Yagah” until at least 1949, when the author of the stories changed to Nancy K. Ford.

This story itself is an odd one– it presents Baba Yaga as a misunderstood kindly old witch, who flies around with her mortar and pestle, watching children play and longing to play their games. When she flies down to join them, they are horrified and run away.

Baba Yaga startles and terrifies children. Image by Jenia Miller.

Baba Yaga is very sad about this, so she intentionally terrifies the children. You know, like you do. Because of this, her woodland creature friends don’t want to hang out with her anymore, and instead they find Vania, a small boy who lives in the woods.

So Baba Yaga finds Vania and tries to murder him with her thunderbolt. It doesn’t work, and she gets sick without the lightning bolt keeping her warm. Vania tucks her into his bed and takes care of her, at which point she bursts into tears. Vania plays with her, fulfilling her desire to play with the children.

Baba Yaga, Vania, and Stenka the Cat riding in a mortar under the full moon.

Baba Yaga winds up acting as a sort of Santa Claus, sneaking into the homes of the children and leaving them little treats.

It’s extremely bizarre:

When the children found the candy and cookies and presents they cried, 'Who put these here for us?' But they never found out. When Baba Yagah saw what fun it was to surprise children instead of frightening them she hid things everywhere. The peasant children and the city children began finding toys and flowers and shiny red apples about their houses. But still the children never suspected that these gifts came from the ugly witch. On every fine night, even now, Baba Yagah and Vania and Stenka the cat go riding in the magic mortar. And everywhere in Russia children watch for them somewhat fearfully against the Russian moon.

Vania hasn’t shown up in any of the other stories yet.

Maybe she ate him when he became disagreeable.

This story was reprinted in the January 2014 issue of Jack and Jill, significantly condensed and watered down, and with two new illustrations by artist Chuck Gonzales. Here’s one of those illustrations:

Baba Yaga, illustrated by Chuck Gonzales, for the January 2014 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine.

Anyway, I’ve got a bunch of these things, and I’ll slowly be working my way through them. Finding a complete list of Baba Yaga stories in Jack and Jill has proven to be extremely difficult, so the work will be ongoing for a while, I suspect.

Baba Yaga's hut, Izbushka.

This is the first of three stories about Baba Yagah that will be in Jack and Jill. Watch for 'Baba Yagah and Her Magic Shoes' next month.

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9 Responses to Baba Yagah and the Children

  1. Daniel Lee says:

    I remember the Baba Yaga story from the 1963 issues. That house on chicken legs was scarey as I was a young “un . Never realized that story went all the way back to the 1940s era

  2. Tim Emrick says:

    When I was a kid in the ’70s, my family doctor’s office had a bookshelf of stuff for kids to read, including Jack & Jill magazines. Those were my first introduction to Baba Yaga.

    When I found out later what she’s *really* like in the Russian tales, I was pretty surprised by just how benign her J&J version had been!

  3. Michael Handis says:

    I enjoyed your posting on Baba Yaga. The Jack and Jill version I knew was from the 1970s-era, the art being drawn by Ursula Koering. I loved her art. I am an academic librarian and have started some preliminary work on researching Baba Yaga as portrayed in Jack and Jill. If you are interested, please email me. I can forward you a list of 25 citations from a paid database that lists Baba Yaga stories that appeared in Jack and Jill 1994-. All are from the 2000s. Apparently, Jack and Jill did not publish Baba Yaga stories in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.

  4. Marilyn Tacoma says:

    I always looked forward to the Baba Yaga stories. I only remember the common elements: the house on chicken legs, the cat, the mortar and pestle, and Baba Yaga herself. I don’t know what happened to my ragged copies, but my Mother the Librarian would never have thrown them out!

  5. I have loved Baba Yaga since I first read her stories in the 50’s. I have a couple of Jack and Jill magazines from back then, treasured because of those stories.

  6. Jennifer Jacobs says:

    This is very exciting! I’ve been looking for a Baba Yaga story from Jack & Jill from the Fifties about a spider & a cave. I remember the illustrations were really great.
    Also looking for a Jack & Jill cut-out book about a baby bee named B baby. Same time period. My mother threw out all those things including my Comics!! 🙂

  7. Kathleen Palmer (Koering) says:

    Good Afternoon,
    Hi my name is Kathy Palmer (Koering). My aunt Ursula Koering did illustrations for Jack and Jill magazine’s Baba Yaga. She lived across the street from us and as kids my sister and I would watch her draw. I have many of her original art work to you might be interested.

  8. Paul Nix says:

    Many thanks for putting this information together on-line. I was in elementary school in the late 1950s and stored in the back of my memory are bits-and-pieces about Baba Yaga (I remember her house being on chicken legs). The memories were so fragmentary that I did a Web search without any real expectation of finding anything.

  9. Sandra k Parker says:

    thank you. I was born in the late 1950’s and I remember these stories from Jack & Jill magazine. I loved them and I wish I had saved them. You are doing a wonderful thing bringing back childhood for so many of us. The stories and the illustrations were from a special time. Bless you.

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