In the excitement of getting (and blogging about!) our books in Waterstones, I completely forgot that I’d started a roundup of kids’ books about witches. So, nine months late, here’s part three.
First of all, I want to talk about a series that will (I think) be familiar to many Brits of my age – but not necessarily in print form! Simon and the Witch by Margaret Stuart Barry is about an unlikely pair of friends: a sensible schoolboy and a misbehaving witch. Despite her advanced years, the witch is clearly the more immature of the two. For instance, when she’s hospitalised with German measles, she commandeers the trolleys and gets the patients to compete in races.
She’s also an incurable show-off. When she makes the English Channel vanish, she only agrees to make it reappear on the proviso that she will be featured in the evening news. She also gatecrashes a Hallowe’en party with a posse of relatives, so they can introduce the fake witches to real magic.
The series stretched to at least eight books that I know of, including my own favourite, The Witch V.I.P. In that late entry, the Witch took over Simon’s school, sending all the teachers home and ordering lunch at ten thirty.
Like many of my childhood favourites, Simon and the Witch is very episodic. Because of that, the stories transferred very well to the small screen. In 1985, a chapter was adapted for a BBC anthology series called Up Our Street - and two years later, Simon and the Witch got a series of their own, totalling twenty-five episodes.
I don’t have very clear memories of the TV show – but I do remember having a couple of the paperbacks, and they were very well-thumbed editions indeed! I hope fans of the show checked out the books, because I know that they gave me a lot of pleasure.
The second book I want to talk about is from a later era. The Witch Trade, by Michael Molloy, was published in 2001. It was one of the books I bought when I was rekindling my love of children’s literature. I made my choice based purely on the magical-sounding names in the blurb on the back: Captain Starlight – Benbow the albatross – and Sir Chadwick Street, flamboyant Master of the Light Witches!
The story opens in the seaside town of Speller. The only children there are Abby, who lives with her aunt and uncle, and her friend Spike, who was found abandoned on the beach as a baby. Their adventure starts when they learn that Speller is populated by Sea Witches, and that all the other children were kidnapped by evil Night Witches. Worse, the Night Witches have begun to devise a powerful weapon, which – the heroes fear – could prove decisive in their long-standing rivalry.
Unfortunately, the Illustrious Order of Light Witches aren’t the most dynamic bunch of heroes, as we learn at one of their quarterly meetings.
Excellent. First item on the agenda: financial report.”
The treasurer stood up and said, “Our finances are much the same, Master.” He reached into the pocket of his overcoat and placed a few bank notes and two handfuls of loose change on the table. “At this precise moment we have about seven pounds and twenty-eight pence in our possession.”
The Master leaned forward. “And how do you think the Night Witches are doing?”
“We estimate they had a good three months, Master.”
“I understand they made more than two billion pounds.
The resulting story is a tale of secret caverns, fantastical submarines and Antarctic adventure, with excellent illustrations by David Wyatt throughout. The book was published by The Chicken House, which was founded by the man who signed JK Rowling. Molloy’s work is cut from a lighter kind of cloth than Harry Potter was, and it isn’t as believable – partly, I think, because it’s such an imaginative tour de force that you can feel the author having fun with you – but it’s a funny and colourful example of the genre. If you or your children enjoy it, you’ll be pleased to hear that it spawned two sequels: The Time Witches and The Wild West Witches.
Well, that’s it for my series on witches. I hope you get chance to check some of these titles out!