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Well, after a whiter-than-white January, what an incredible contrast February has been!

I’m not to going to lie: it’s been disgusting.  I actually had takeaway ten nights on the trot.  Big takeaway, too.  The gentleman who does deliveries for the Imperial Dragon could scarcely disguise his contempt after I summoned him for the fourth time in as many nights, and our relationship has only got worse since then.

Well, March is going to be another January.  Brown rice and chicken breast, and lots of fresh salad.  Mark my words!

Anyway.  It’s a good few weeks since I posted here.  In my last post, I started a series on children’s books about witches, beginning with The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy and Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson.  Tonight, I want to rave about The Chimney Witches by Victoria Whitehead and – pairing an obscure gem with a dearly loved classic – The Witches by Roald Dahl.

The Chimney Witches is the story of Ellen, who discovers that a witch, Weird Hannah, is living in her chimney.  Hannah’s son is a would-be wizard called Rufus, who’s lost his Uncle Whizoon’s magic medallion.  When Ellen offers to help find it, she gets drawn into a world of magic that co-exists with our own.

This book was originally published in the late Eighties, and I remember it was one I read and re-read as a child.  It’s a very magical and vivid book, and it’s a crying shame that it’s now out of print.  If nothing else, as well as being brilliant in its own right, it could have easily found a new audience during the height of Pottermania.  The most memorable part of the book is a witty sequence set in the Land of Nightmares, which I would definitely shortlist for my all time top five.  I see second-hand copies of The Chimney Witches sell online from time to time, and really recommend you grab a copy and give it a read.

Now, Roald Dahl’s The Witches doesn’t really need much of an introduction, but I think we can sometimes forget what a great book it is.  We’re probably all familiar with the plot, but I just want to quickly highlight what I love about it.

Firstly, the witches are everywhere, but you can spot them.  Stepping aside from witches for a second, I think children love vampires because you can guard against them with lore.  Garlic – the sign of the cross – sunlight – a stake through the heart.  It’s a heady mix.  We’re both terrified and fascinated.  Equally, in Roald Dahl’s hands, the witches have the same appeal.  It’s not just morbid fascination.  You’re swotting up in the name of self-preservation.  The chapters where we learn about the witches are among the most compelling in all of children’s literature.

Oh if only there were a way of telling for sure whether a woman was a witch or not, then we could round them all up and put them in the meat-grinder. Unhappily, there is no such way. But there ARE a number of little signals you can look out for, little quirky habits that all witches have in common, and if you know about these, if you remember them always, then you might just possibly manage to escape from being squelched before you are very much older.

What child could read a para like that, and not sit up to pay attention?

Secondly, having set such a grim tone, the author doesn’t chicken out at the last minute.  The Witches is doubly delightful for being so bittersweet.  The poor hero (although he puts a brave face on it) pays dearly for outwitting the witches, and has to spend the rest of his short life in the body of a mouse.

Love it.

Well, that’s it for today’s post.  I haven’t decided what to cover next time, but I’ll update this post as soon as I do!

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