Which Witch?

which witchJenny at Reading the End has been recommending Eva Ibbotson for years and years, and particularly as a comfort read. While I recognize that comfort reads work better if you’re re-reading, I thought that since I was in need of something of that sort myself, I’d give it a try. What could it possibly hurt? Our library has half a shelf of her books, so I picked Which Witch? almost at random, and took it home. It begins:

As soon as he was born, Mr. and Mrs. Canker knew that their baby was not like other people’s children.

For one thing, he was born with a full set of teeth and would lie in his pram for hours, chewing huge mutton bones to shreds or snapping at the noses of old ladies fool enough to kiss him. For another, though he screamed with temper when they changed his nappies, his eyes never actually filled with tears. Also — and perhaps this was strangest of all — as soon as they brought him home from the hospital and lit a nice, bright fire in the sitting room, the smoke from their chimney began to blow against the wind.

Of course, the baby is a wizard, and grows up to be Arriman the Awful, smiting and blighting wherever he goes. Eventually, however, all this begins to pall, and he wants to pass on his heritage to a son — which, unfortunately, necessitates a wife. Arriman decides that the best way to find a wife is to have a contest: the witches of Todcaster will vie for his hand by casting their blackest spells. Too bad the witch who is most in love with him is a white witch…

About three chapters into this book, I began to feel a little outraged. Why on earth had I never heard of this author? This is exactly the kind of book I’d have loved as a child. It’s both clever and funny, with references to things children might have heard of but could figure out if they hadn’t, like the Kraken. It’s well-written and well-plotted, with lots of interesting characters (I particularly loved a genie in a bottle called Mr. Chatterjee.) It’s got quite genuinely scary bits in it, but nothing so overwhelming that the target audience would have nightmares (I’m looking at you, John Bellairs.) The ending is so satisfying and lovely that it actually brought a warm glow to my jaded, cinder-blackened heart. So why was this the first book of Eva Ibbotson’s I’d ever read? Ridiculous! I blame, in this order, my parents, Nature, the Will of God, and the Burke Branch Public Library.

Now, however, it’s my job to read more of her work, and I think I’ll do it by reading it aloud to my children before bedtime. They’re just the right age for it (7 and 9) and that way, no one will have to explain to their therapists how I never introduced them to Eva Ibbotson…

This entry was posted in Children's / YA Lit, Fiction, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Which Witch?

  1. Sounds like a wonderful book. I’m off to check my library’s catalog!

  2. Yay! I’m so glad you’ve discovered Ibbotson. She’s been a favourite of my since I was eleven or twelve and discovered her adult novels (now rebranded as YA). I’ve only started reading her children’s books in the last three or four years but have found them just as delightful. I just reread The Dragonfly Pool a few weeks ago and would highly recommend it – but then I’d highly recommend everything by Ibbotson! Madensky Square and The Morning Gift are the best of her books for older readers but everything she wrote is charming and funny and altogether delightful.

  3. Lisa says:

    Like Claire, I’ve only lately discovered her children’s books – actually, I think she introduced me to them! I will add this one to my list. And I’d second Madensky Square, but add A Song for Summer as well.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Just from your review I am feeling cheated that I’ve never even heard of this author. At least you have identified who is to blame so I know where to direct my anger though it does seem a little unfair to blame your parents:). Seriously, thanks for the heads up on what sounds like a great new author to explore!

  5. HURRAH. I’m so, so pleased you enjoyed this, and I bet your kids will too! I used to read Eva Ibbotson’s books to my baby-sitting charges and I believe one or two to my little sister, and all of them loved it. She’s such a fun author. I am sad she’s died.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I just read this novel for the first time earlier in the year and had many of your feelings- why had I not discovered her before? Can’t wait to introduce my kids (they are 4, so just a bit too young) to her work.

  7. Amble says:

    Eva Ibbotson is particularly pleasurable to read aloud to children – and her stuff works brilliantly when you are reading to children at a variety of ages. I would especially recommend “Island of the Aunts” and “The Secret of Platform 13” (which has more than a few echoes of Harry Potter) for reading aloud.

    • Jenny says:

      Isn’t it that Harry Potter has echoes of Ibbotson, since Ibbotson came first? But thank you for the recommendations! I think they will make perfect read-aloud books.

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