I’ve had a soft spot for middle grade novels about witches ever since I was eight. At that age, I read “The Witch Family” by Eleanor Estes and decided the witch life was for me. Now that I’m older, nothing has changed. I love witches with their unusual potions, and tendency to veer towards evil, and pride in ugly appearances. They’re great. So when I saw “Witchworld” on the shelves of my local library, I knew it was my kind of book.
“Witchworld” describes a modern family of witches: a single mum and her two daughters. The story follows the youngest daughter Flo. The world of witches has evolved from the last time I visited, and now has modern devices like a spellstick instead of a magic wand, and a skyrider instead of a broomstick. However, when Flo’s grandma comes to stay with her ancient techology and cooks up a potion in Flo’s mum’s spotless kitchen, well, things are bound to get interesting. Flo’s grandma is convinced Witchworld is in danger from ghouls.
Only one problem: everyone in Witchworld knows ghouls are extinct.
Or are they?
“Witchworld” is hilarious. I loved the intragenerational familial bantering. I loved the parallels with young people and technology in our world. And the main character Flo with her obsession with pixies and concern about doing the right thing is a relatable and fun voice to follow. This is a great read for younger readers.
Yes, novels for middle grade and YA audiences written solely in verse! Forget the horrors of long epic poetry, these novels are easy to read with language that flows simply and beautifully in a unique narration style. Each poem contributes to the overall plot, although often they are suited for stand-alone works as well. This trend in kid lit is small, but catching.
1) “Audacious” by Gabrielle Prendergast
Raphaelle is a strong willed girl with a Catholic background. She falls in love with Samir, a Muslim boy. Can their romance overcome their different cultural backgrounds? When Raphael’s art project challenges how society society views women, it comes with some unexpected consequences for Raphael and the people around her. This novel deals with some pretty mature topics and is more for the YA crowd.
2) “Inside Out and Back Again” by Thanhha Lai
A semi-autobiographical work about a family of Vietnamese refugees and their trip to the US and their subsequent adjustment to the new culture. This book is suitable for younger readers and the writing is beautiful.
3) “Red Butterfly” by A.L. Sonnichsen
A book about a orphaned girl with a disability living in China and her illegal American mother who adopts her without proper documentation. This is a story of a girl between cultures who is neither Chinese nor American and is forced to live in hiding. It is also a story about discovering the true meaning of family.
4) “Blue Birds” by Caroline Starr Rose
This is the story of two girls who meet in 1587. One girl is from England and has settled in the new world in Virginia. The other girl is from the Roanoke tribe. Even though the two girls don’t share a common language, they become close friends. However, tensions between the native people and settlers become high and their friendship is threatened.
5) “Capricious” by Gabrielle Prendergast
Raphaelle is back. This time she’s trying to navigate having two boyfriends among some unusual family dynamics. Definitely YA.
This book hit me in the gut. The main character Augie, is completely average. In fact, most of the time he is below average.
The book explains his struggles relating to his parents’ high expectations. There are positive influences such as a babysitter, and a math teacher, who accept him for who he is without trying to push him to be someone else.
Lisa Graff really gets into Augie’s head, and helps the reader feel for his situation. You understand his perspective, and how aware he is that he isn’t living up to his parents’ hopes and dreams.
As a reader, I hoped that Augie would find out that he had some awesome talent, like guitar playing, or art, or robot-building. But this never happens. Instead, Graff lets Augie stay as he is… average.
As such, the reader is presented with a challenge. Can they accept Augie as he is?
Often, part of the charm of reading a book is relating to a super cool main character, who can totally take on the impossible and be the chosen one. You know. Luke use the force.
This book challenges that concept. Augie as a character demonstrated to me that everyone deserves kindness and that everyone is born with the same amount of worth as everyone else.
This is one of these books that changed my entire approach to writing. (Hi, I’m a writer by the way.) “The Thickety” is just brimming with amazing technique. So, here’s what JA White can do:
1) How he introduces his characters. The sentences containing their description are instantly memorable and contain at least one trait that the reader can pick up on and is carried throughout the book (Grace’s ribbon). However, this isn’t what makes it brilliant. The scene introducing the character demonstrates their qualities immediately. You don’t have to guess that Grace is a massive villain because she shows it to you. She prevents the main character from getting medication for her brother in the first scene. What a jerk.
2) The mood and atmosphere is seriously creepy and is maintained throughout the book. The living forest, the paranoid town, the loneliness of the main character, the nethergrim, the addictiveness of spells. I couldn’t sleep after reading this thing. Which may make some people go: this is middle grade? Yes. This pushes the boundaries of horror in middle grade, but seriously, I think kids can handle it. Do you see what’s on TV these days? And lots of children’s classics are scary. Joan Aiken. I loved Joan Aiken when I was smaller and somehow I don’t think it affected me as much then as it does now.
3) The beginning and the ending have serious symmetry. This is honestly what takes this book to masterpiece level. Too often the ending of a book isn’t well-thought out and kills the entire work. Not here. The ending shocked me, yet made so much sense. The entire book had been pushing for this ending so hard that no other ending would’ve worked. Once you read it, you’re like “Oh my god, what? Oh. Of course.”
4) The writing style is very clear. Enough variation in sentence length keeps things interesting. JA White taught me that a two word sentence is okay after some longer sentences and adds colour to a manuscript.
Anyway, even if you’re not a writer this book is a seriously good read. Read it!
But do yourself a favour and keep the lights on.