A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Roald Dahl's 1983 book The Witches is a highly entertaining fantasy novel with scary and suspenseful scenes. A young orphaned boy goes to live with his grandmother in Norway, and she tells her grandson true (in the world of the book) facts about witches. Dahl's superior inventiveness as a storyteller is on full display in the tales Grandmamma tells, and in her descriptions of the physical characteristics that distinguish witches from humans. As in so many of his wonderful works, Dahl also depicts a special, loving relationship between a child and an adult who's not his parent. Grandmamma is a doting caretaker with some singular quirks. She smokes cigars, for example. There's a little violence in the book, especially against mice: A tail is partially sliced off, and two mice are hurled against a wall. However, the threat that the witches will use their evil sorcery against children is what makes the book scary -- perhaps too scary for some kids.
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What's the story?
The little orphan boy in Roald Dahl's THE WITCHES lives with his Norwegian grandmother, who tells him scary facts about witches. It's a good thing she knows these things, because the boy is prepared to protect himself the first time he encounters one. Grandmother and grandson are informed that his parents' will requires that they live in England. Though they are both loath to leave Norway, they move to England, and the boy attends school there. They plan to return to Norway during his summer holidays. However, Grandmamma becomes ill, and her doctor insists that they not travel until she's recovered. They choose a seaside hotel in England for their vacation instead, and there the boy happens upon a sinister meeting of witches. He listens in and is alarmed to hear the witches plot against all the children in the country. With help from Grandmamma, the little boy must find a way to evade the witches and stop their nefarious plans.
Is it any good?
This entertaining novel is full of surprises for young readers, though some are pretty scary. As in so many of his books, Dahl creates a fantastical world in which an innocent child sees right and wrong, and solves problems, more effectively than many adults. Dahl also has a knack for inventing original, compelling characteristics, so that his witches aren't just mean and scary, they're uniquely weird. Fortunately, the witches' creepiness is counterbalanced by the warm, charming relationship between the young boy and his cigar-smoking Grandmamma; they make a great team. Kids who have enjoyed other Dahl novels will certainly enjoy The Witches, especially if they like the thrill of getting a little scared.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way the witches look and behave in The Witches. How are they similar to, or different from, witches in other stories you've read or watched?
Did you think this book was scary? What were the scariest parts?
- Author: Roald Dahl
- Illustrator: Quentin Blake
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Puffin Books
- Publication date: January 1, 1983
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: April 14, 2020
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