8 of the best witches casting a spell in children's books
Published on: 20 February 2019 Author: Michelle Harrison
A Pinch of Magic author Michelle Harrison knows a thing or two about magical stories, so we asked her to pick out her favourite witches in children's books...
My seventh novel, A Pinch of Magic, follows the Widdershins sisters who set out to break a curse which keeps them trapped on the island of Crowstone. While Betty, Charlie and Fliss aren't witches, there are certainly nods in that direction with enchanted objects, a sorceress imprisoned in a tower, and of course the family name of 'Widdershins', which has strong associations with all things witchy.
From the White Witch of Narnia to Hogwarts - and even Mary Poppins - the theme of witches is one of endless fascination to both readers and, of course, the writers who never tire of finding ways to inject new excitement into the genre. It gives me great pleasure to share my favourite witchy books for young readers...
1. Picklewitch and Jack by Claire Barker, illustrated by Teemu Juhani (Faber & Faber)
Illustration: Teemu Juhani
A gorgeous tale of a warm but wobbly friendship between cake-loving Picklewitch and goody-goody Jack. It's bursting with bonkers humour and playful language – I was especially thrilled to find the word 'widdershins' in there!
2. Rose by Holly Webb (Orchard Books)
Illustration: Lisa Evans
When orphan Rose becomes a housemaid to a magician, she just wants to make the best of her new life. But Rose has a magic all of her own - can she use it to save the children who are mysteriously vanishing? Charmingly written, with touches of humour and some surprisingly dark moments.
3. The Pongwiffy Stories by Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Katy Riddell (Simon & Schuster)
Pongwiffy is a witch of dirty habits that both children and adults will delight in reading about. Inventive names, lots of laughs and plenty of filth embroider Pong's madcap schemes, such as styling her hair with warmed-up baby hedgehogs. Gloriously yucky fun.
4. The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (Usborne)
Illustration: Melissa Castrillón
Marinka yearns for friendship, but it seems impossible when she lives in a house with chicken legs which constantly wanders! Her grandmother is Baba Yaga, who guides the dead... and Marinka is one day expected to take her place. Anderson's imagining of Baba Yaga is sympathetic and maternal rather than fearsome in this beautifully-drawn fairy tale.
5. Gobbolino the Witch's Cat by Ursula Moray Williams (Puffin)
Illustration: Catherine Rayner
The Gobbolino stories were firm favourites when I was a child, and no doubt inspired my enduring love of black cats. White-pawed, blue-eyed, Gobbolino is rejected as a witch's cat, and even by his own sister; the delightfully wicked Sootica. She asks him in surprise, 'Don't you want to be bad?' But no - all Gobbolino wants is a home. Classic and magical storytelling.
6. Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Ashley King (Simon & Schuster)
It may seem unfair to include two Kaye Umansky books, but it can't be helped - she does witches perfectly. This sweet, funny tale is about no-nonsense Elsie Pickles, a girl plucked from her family's dull shop to house-sit for a witch. With a huffy raven, thieving neighbours and magical ingredients, what could possibly go wrong?
7. Wood Angel by Erin Bow (Chicken House)
Plain Kate has always been suspected of being a witch, thanks to her mismatched eyes and the strange wood carvings she makes. When her father dies she's left vulnerable, and strikes a bargain with a mysterious stranger. An eerie tale of sold shadows and one of the best talking cats that I've come across.
8. The Witches by Roald Dahl (author) and Quentin Blake (illustrator) (Puffin)
A canny grandmother and a small boy set out to tackle a grisly gang of witches intent on doing away with children. I'll never forget the fear and excitement I felt when reading this for the first time; to this day I'm haunted by the little girl who ends up trapped in a painting. As the Grand High Witch would say, 'Vunderful!'
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