Back we go to preparing for Hallowe’en! It occurred to me while I was pulling together my Hallowe’en posts that most of them were picture books. What about older readers? Well, off I trotted to the book shop to ask them what they thought, and when they suggested Eleanor Estes’s The Witch Family, I was hooked.
I love Eleanor Estes. The Hundred Dresses simultaneously broke and healed my heart, my favourite book feeling.
The Witch Family is utterly, utterly different, but written deftly and with a light touch. There’s no heartbreak here; just humour and mischief. The story is of two girls, Amy and her friend Clarissa, who banish the local Old Witch to a glass hill for her great wickedness.
But what of Hallowe’en? they wonder. So they decide that they really need the witch back on Hallowe’en, or what good is Hallowe’en? So, provided that the Old Witch is good the rest of the time, she can come back and be wicked on Hallowe’en.
The rest of the novel is about the deep, philosophical struggle between wickedness and goodness, between when wickedness, and what sort of wickedness, is permissible, and when one must be very, very good.
The Old Witch, for example, needs a family in order to be good– witches can’t be alone. So first comes a Little Witch, Hannah, and then Weenie Witch, the witch baby. But then Hannah needs a friend– so she finds a mermaid in a lagoon, named Lurie. And it all starts to sound very idyllic, really…
But is it, quite? What of the Old Witch’s ultimate, deep, existential wickedness? What of her desire for rabbits?
The whole novel is rollicking good fun. The issues at play (wickedness and goodness, obedience and disobedience) are handled so lightly that they let you think without stressing your poor brain, and the Hallowe’en hurly-burly itself is just a delight.
This is the perfect MG novel for children of about age 8 and up who want to enjoy Hallowe’en without being made to shake in their shoes. It’s not remotely scary, and has only the occasional tiny spooky bit.
We’ll have more Hallowe’en stories soon! Some old favourites will be back…