Earwig and the Witch

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
Earwig and the Witch Book Poster Image
Comical tale of a spunky girl adopted by a witch and devil.

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age 8+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Earwig's unconventional way of looking at situations and her fierce determination may serve as inspiration to anyone who's had to make the best of a bad situation. The fantastic world Jones creates, where doors sometimes go to one room and sometimes go to another, will help stretch readers' imagination and sense of possibilities.

Positive Messages

When Earwig's position in life changes from good (living in an orphanage where everyone does what she wants) to bad (being adopted by a witch and a demon and having to do whatever they tell her do), she doesn't complain. Instead she looks at her new situation as a challenge, and she likes challenges. She determinedly sets about figuring out how to take control of the situation and turn it to her liking.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although Earwig, with her strong personality and ability to get anything she wants, may appear spoiled at first, these qualities serve her well when she is adopted by a witch and the Mandrake, a powerful man whose ears sometimes seem to be horns and whose feet turn into claws when he's mad. Rather than become discouraged when she realizes the witch has no intention of teaching her magic but only wants to use her as a "spare pair of hands," Earwig sets about trying to teach herself magic. She is smart, careful, and brave, and has a wicked sense of humor: One of the first spells she learns is to give the witch a literal spare pair of hands -- one on her forehead, and one on her rear end.

Violence & Scariness

When the witch is unhappy with either Earwig or Thomas the cat, she threatens, "I'll give you worms!" Earwig figures out how to protect herself and Thomas for the most part, but she nevertheless does end up with a pile of wriggly purple and blue worms in the middle of her bedroom floor. When she sends them into the Mandrake's room, he is so angry he turns into a frightening fire-emitting creature. Although this does scare Earwig, she stands up to him and asks for what she wants.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book written by Diana Wynne Jones just before her death includes an imaginative world that is reminiscent of Howl's Moving Castle, as it's set in a magician's house that changes its geography. This fantasy world is easier to grasp than some of Jones' other, more complex worlds and features a grouchy witch and a powerful devil-like figure with a penchant for comfort food. The slightly scary parts are quickly over and tempered with humor and a brave heroine.

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Kid, 10 years old February 28, 2012

A summary of the book Earwig and the Witch

I think the book Earwig and the Witch is a good book for kids 8 and up. If you are younger than 8 it might be a little violent. A brief summary of this is: A... Continue reading

What's the story?

Earwig loves the orphanage in which she was born and raised, where she can always get everyone to do what she wants and appreciates the people who take care of her. But after an odd-looking woman and a 9-foot tall man take her home to live with them, for the first time in her life, Earwig has to do something she doesn't want to. Rather than get discouraged when the unpleasant woman tells Earwig she must help her prepare witch spells, the girl sees it as her biggest challenge. With Thomas the talking cat serving as her familiar and friend, Earwig patiently waits for opportunities to turn the tide her way.

Is it any good?

Though it's delightful to have one last book from Jones after her death, and it starts out promising with all the trademarks of her writing, it feels unfinished and not quite fully developed. For example, a note left on Earwig when she was a baby implies that Earwig herself is a witch, but it is never followed up on, and the last, very brief chapter of the book begins, "A year went by," and has an ending that seems tacked on. Still, Earwig is likable and readers will enjoy her comical adventures as she tries to outsmart the witch. Early readers will especially appreciate Paul O. Zelinsky's cartoony drawings, which break up the text with spot illustrations and occasional full-page spreads.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Earwig is used to getting everyone to do what she wants. For Earwig, is that a good quality, or a bad one?

  •  What do you think the note that was pinned to Earwig's shawl when she was left on the doorstep of the orphanage meant?

  • What spells from the witch's book would you find useful?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love magic and fantasy

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