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Not Just a Witch



Magic and humor mix with dark details for strange brew.

What parents need to know

Educational value

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. 

Positive messages

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.


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. 

Not applicable

Some mentions of God, and an Indian girl recalls how racists had called her cousin a racist name.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A drunken wife-beater is mentioned, certainly not glamorized. An evil schemer drinks a lot of wine with dinner.

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.

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. 

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Eva Ibbotson
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Dutton Children's Books
Publication date:August 17, 2003
Number of pages:185
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12

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Teen, 13 years old Written byKashana February 17, 2010


Parent of a 4 year old Written byA Tuson May 9, 2010

Not just a Good Read, a Good Think too!

Excellent messages: kindness, think for yourself and always think lovingly. Children, animals and those who are marginalized are always her themes; Ibbottson should be required reading for children and their loving guardians/parents/teachers.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Parent of a 4 year old Written byAngela Tuson May 9, 2010

Not Just a Good Read, but a Good Think too!

This is one of the two very best of Eva Ibbottson's excellent books. It would be a pity for any adult who cares about children, animals and respect toward the vulnerable and marginalized to miss out on one of her books. Referring to violence as being a bad choice is one of the things responsible adults DO do for children. Although the book IS lighthearted, the message is clear; kindness, tolerance, and thinking before acting are all preferable actions. Kindness to those who may not be like yourself, or who may not fit the general description of pretty or powerful is even better. Above all, think for yourself, and think lovingly are the messages of this book (and all her books). She should be required reading for all children (and their loving adult guardians/parents/care-givers/teachers).
What other families should know
Great messages