A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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What's the story?
Heckie has just graduated from Good Witch school with the power to turn humans into animals (using her Knuckle of Power and Toe of Transformation), and she is determined to Do Good. Unfortunately she and her best friend, Dora Mayberry, have a terrible quarrel at graduation, so she is on her own. Moving to a small town to make the world a better place, Heckie gathers a group of children and other witches to help her find bad people who deserve to be turned into animals. But when an unscrupulous furrier discovers her power, he charms and deceives her into a scheme to turn prisoners into snow leopards for fur coats.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Heckie's plan to make the world a better place. What do you think of her approach to justice? What did she ultimately learn about the best ways to use her power?
This book is about witches and magic -- which younger kids might like. But the violence in here is pretty intense. The publisher said this book is for eight to 12 year olds -- do you agree? What age would you say this book is for?
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