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Monday, 10 April 2017

Winnie the Witch

Winnie the Witch
Author: Valerie Thomas
Illustrator: Korky Paul
Publisher: Oxford University Press, first published 1987, edition featured (25th anniversary edition) 2012

This book, Winnie the Witch, is the original from a series of now 15 picture books all featuring lovable, ungainly witch Winnie and her loyal pet cat, Wilbur. We have 10 of the books in this series, and they're a favourite with my children when in their preschool year. With slapstick humour, involving lots of clumsy Winnie tripping over her cat, and a reluctant Wilbur doing things he's not necessarily happy about, going under the sea, going up in space for example, the books hit the funny bone of this early years age group perfectly. So much so, books in this series are frequently chosen by my daughter (3), to bring in for 'Show and Tell' at nursery (I expect she gets a guaranteed laugh as Korky Paul's illustrations of erratic Winnie tell the story nicely in themselves).      

The illustrations, being self contained, remind me of graphic novel illustrations, with the attention to detail in the architectural backdrop (I love Winnie's complicated black Gothic castle). There's also a story arc through the series, in that we see some members of Winnie's family more than once, and we also get reminders of what what Winnie and Wilbur like and in Wilbur's case, dislike: there's a consistency here that empowers young children inviting them to recall and remember. Likewise, there's a consistent lead-in to Winnie casting a spell; my daughter loves to join in: 'she picked up her magic wand, waved it 3 times and...'  

On occasion the layout of the double page spread is a bit confusing, especially in this original title, as at one point there's a horizontal spilt page (it frustrates me ever time that I read aloud the wrong section first!). Some of the double page spreads are used really well though, being awash with watercolours for the casting of spells for example.    

The story line of each book is very formulaic (but why not, it works so well), generally involving Winnie being clumsy and accidentally messing up a spell or over-dreaming an aspiration. She then goes about righting her wrongs, with her black cat in despairing pursuit. The general message of each book is that friendship lasts out, problems always have solutions and mishaps can be remedied. In this edition of the series, Winnie the Witch, Winnie is fed up with Wilbur being a black cat whom she fines hard to see in her black house. Winnie, casting a spell, turns Wilbur green, but then when he's outside on the green glass, she can't see him again (in another book in the series Winnie's terrible short sightedness is confirmed!) A witch's solution to not seeing seeing her cat, is of course, to turn her castle multicoloured so her black cat stands out. Such simple but clever solutions and happy endings run throughout the series.  

What my daughter seems to love about this series, is the very honest and human quality of Winnie (the same reason she's really starting to get into The Worst Witch TV Series on children's television channel CBBC, and for that matter I hear Winnie and Witch herself has been made into a children's cartoon series on Channel Five (Milkshake) but haven't caught this yet. (Your thoughts are most welcome). Each book charts Winnie's mood quite nicely, showing how she feels sad and empathetic toward Wilbur when he's teased by birds in a tree for being so colourful for instance. With this depth in a protagonist, you can see whythe series seems to have a really strong, and now generational, fan following. There's also a lot of movement in Korky Paul's witch depiction, with Winnie's beads often being shown as flying everywhere. I also like Winnie's scatty flyaway hair and what looks like a rushed application of black lipstick. Winnie is a fun and uncouth witch character, gangling, grinning, always trying her hardest (oh yes, much like Jill Murphy's Mildred Hubble (The Worst Witch Series ) aimed at slightly older readers).     

And if that wasn't all enough to draw the attention of the preschooler, the front and back endpapers of each book in this reissued 2012 Winnie series, include fan art. My children love examining these pictures and then playing, 'guess the age of the child artist'. regardless of age, these pictures have inspired our own Winnie art creations (as the children were really keen, given the endpaper above, to try out pastels on black paper too). 

If you like this book, with a strong female protagonist, you might also like: The Worst Princess

If you're a fan of Winnie the Witch, here's a the OUP endorsed Winnie website: Winnie and

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