A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This book does have plenty of action and entertainment to keep readers sucked in -- and can lead to some compelling discussions about how we judge people.
The witches at the heart of this story are trying to do the right thing throughout -- but life grows complicated when they make judgments about who is an evil person. In the end, they focus on making helpful improvements in their everyday lives.
Positive Role Models
Heckie and Dora try to do good, though they are sometimes misguided. They also model some lovely lessons about forgiveness and the strength of true friendship.
Violence & Scariness
An old woman is bashed in the head, a boy is found beaten and bloody, and mention is made of an abusive nursing home, animal cruelty, and other intense crimes. A girl remembers her cousin who was beaten by white supremist thugs. A woman is shot during a bank robbery, etc.
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Some mentions of God, and an Indian girl recalls how racists had called her cousin a racist name.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A drunken wife-beater is mentioned, certainly not glamorized. An evil schemer drinks a lot of wine with dinner.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the younger readers might be sucked in by the title and fun premise here -- but the author mentions a number of fairly brutal crimes, which makes this book a better fit for older kids. One pretty major character is found beaten and bloodied by an adult, while a girl remembers her cousin beaten by white supremist thugs, for example. The witches at the heart of this story, Heckie and Dora, try to do the right thing, and ultimately learn to use their powers in gentle ways. They also model some lovely lessons about forgiveness and the strength of true friendship.
Is It Any Good?
Eva Ibbotson is loved by her many fans for her lighthearted fantasies filled with amusingly eccentric characters, usually adults, and this one fits the form. And there are some creative turns -- and hilarious moments (such as when the Heckie's half-dragon/ half-worm tells her how much he hated his aquatic life, before he was transformed, "Being a duck was the most boring thing that ever happened to me.") But young readers drawn in by the witchy-premise might be confused by the mix of magic with all-too-real crimes, such as abuse of old people and animals.
Ibbotson's bizarre sense of humor has been compared, with justification, to Roald Dahl's, which sometimes bothered adults even as it delighted children. But there is a big difference between the ridiculous unreality of James' parents being killed by an escaped rhino, and the all-too-real scene in this book when one of the children is found after having been beaten into bloody unconsciousness by the adult villain.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.