I love a good Baba Yaga story, and A WOLF FOR A SPELL delivers. In this version, Baba Yaga is both good and bad. She strives to protect her forest, the same forest Zima lives in and Nadya loves, but she also dislikes getting involved. She prefers to stay on the sideline, even when something important is on the line. When she meets Zima, spends time as a wolf, and later gets to know the true tsar heir, Ivan, she finds that being passive doesn't mean being an innocent party and must face her fears to complete her mission. Zima and Nadya, though both less morally ambiguous, have similar journeys. They must be honest about their own strengths and faults and learn to overcome fear together.
The illustrations blew me away. I can't remember a time when I've read an illustrated middle grade fairy tale that featured positive fat representation. Katerina, Nadya's unofficial older sister who is the bride-to-be of the tsar after being an orphan herself, is depicted as fat and beautiful. She was without a doubt my favorite secondary character. I can't count the number of instances of fatphobia I've found in magical middle grade stories, and this was a breath of fresh air. Young readers will be able to see that fat girls can be heroes or princesses or tsarinas if they want.
With magic and folklore abound, A WOLF FOR A SPELL demonstrates the importance of overcoming prejudices, the power of teamwork, and overcoming fear.