Allison's Book Bag

Three by Anne Mazer

Posted on: October 22, 2011

For author round-ups, I always challenge myself to read everything that is available by an author at my local library. When it comes to reading Anne Mazer, this would be impractical. She’s written picture books, chapter books, series books, and even a nonfiction writing guide for a total of about fifty books. The Abbey Hayes’ series alone numbers around twenty books. She’s one prolific writer!

Earlier this fall, I reviewed Spilling Ink, which Anne Mazer co-authored with Ellen Potter. As soon as I finish reading a few dynamite finds from library book sales, I also plan to review sample Abbey Hayes’ books in a second round-up of juvenile fiction that features aspiring authors. For now, you’ll have to settle for a review of three representative books: The Accidental Witch, Sister Magic, and The Oxboy.

Although these three books are for different ages and audiences, they show off Mazer’s ability to immediately set up conflict and establish character. The Accidental Witch starts out: “I’ve wanted to be a witch since I was four years old.” Only a few paragraphs later, we learn that main character Bee is not witch material: She doesn’t have a broom; cats make her eyes puff up; her hair is short, straw-colored, and sticks up. Sister Magic starts out: “Mabel and Violet are as different as two sisters can be. They didn’t look alike. They didn’t think alike. They didn’t play alike. They didn’t act alike.” Only a couple of paragraphs later, we learn that this is a problem, because sometimes they didn’t even like each other. And only a mere page later, an even bigger problem crops up in the form of a mysterious book that is sent to them, which Mabel is reluctant to allow Violet to hold. The Oxboy starts out: “No one can tell that I am the son of an ox.” Like with the other two books, the conflict is revealed after only a few paragraphs: “I have not forgotten my father, though he left when I was five.”

The Accidental Witch and Sister Magic also show off Mazer’s ability to create memorable characters. In The Accidental Witch, character tags are used to quickly distinguish characters. For example, Peter is so thin and slight that he is almost invisible, while Mandy looks like ice-cream with sprinkles on top but is NOT sweet. As for Bee, we quickly learn that all her problems would be solved by becoming a witch: Jennifer would be proud to be her friend again, Mandy would turn green with envy, and her teacher would award her with an A for all her perfect school work. We also soon realize that as clumsy as Bee is, she has a ton of confidence. When her mom lists the traits she needs to become a witch, Bee thinks she is well on her way. And when a real witch visits her school to outline the four stages to becoming a witch, Bee thinks she is a cinch for being picked as a witch-in-training. Turning to Sister Magic, Mazer’s style is simpler but characters are no less developed. I love this image that main character Mabel gives of her younger sister Violet: “Mabel had jam on her face. She had jam on her hands. She even had jam in her hair.” Later, we learn even more about the differences between the sisters by seeing the contrast in their rooms: Each one of Violet’s walls is a different color, her curtains are green, and her bedspread is polka-dotted. Mabel’s room is painted pale yellow. Her curtains are yellow. Her bedspread is a matching cream.

Mazer is equally adept at creating vivid descriptions. I love this line from The Accidental Witch: “The colors of rain, dusty winds, and gutters of muddy water may all carry magic into your world.” Senior witch Andelica uses this phrase when describing the glories that witches bring to the human world. Naturally, every object connected to a witch is orange or black. I appreciate that there aren’t any of the serious and darker objects (such as crystal balls, tarot cards, or hexagrams but rather fun and lighter Bewitched-type stuff like capes, hats, wands, and cats. Non-witch details are picturesque without being flowery such as: “the air chilled and darkened, as though someone had clapped an iron bowl over the earth”. Again, Mazer’s style is simpler in Sister Magic, but the descriptions are just as real. For example, here is one about Mabel’s special bead box: “She had organized the beads by size, color, and shape. All the colors of the rainbow, from blue-green to yellow-orange, sparkled in their drawers.” In those two sentences, we’re given all the info we would expect an eight-year-old to observe or need. We also see how organized Mabel is. Turning to The Oxboy, we read that the family cottage is like a sweet-smelling barn. It is far off the main road, at the end of a tumbled path overgrown with clover and blackberries. Can’t you just picture it?

The final compliment I’ll bestow on Mazer regards her light tone and humor. One of my favorite episodes in The Accidental Witch involves the broom that Bee receives. It is for beginners, which Bee quickly realizes means that her broom is about as untrained as she is when it comes to magic. This means it twitches, skims, whizzes, bangs, zooms, plunges, and of course flings. When her broom finally flies Bee home, it thinks about going down the chimney but then thinks better about it and takes her through her closed bedroom window. One of my favorite episodes in Sister Magic isn’t a laugh out loud one, but did make me smile. Mabel, her best friend Simone, and Violet are making bead necklaces to wear on their first day of school.  Mabel is feeling proud of how she is sharing her beads, when Violet decides that instead she wants to run under the sprinkler. To Mabel’s dismay, Simone joins Violet outside and helps her turn on the sprinkler. Mabel instead keeps making her necklace, but then glances out the window and notices the hot weather. She decides that she can finish her necklace anytime, there was plenty of time, but “there might not be time to run under the sprinkler again”.

You’ll notice that I have said little about The Oxboy. While it is a well-written allegory with an important message, it is not typical Anne Mazer fare. After the hint of conflict in the first chapter, the next two chapters backtrack to tell about how a woman and an ox unite during a time when animals are outcasts. As such, The Oxboy is a slower and more plodding tale than found in her other books. Even when the pace picks up in chapter four, because the strange union is discovered and the family is being hunted, the book remains overtly moralistic and dark. Rarely are readers allowed to forget the message of prejudice and cruelty, to the point that The Oxboy rarely receives help from even his fellow animals. So, while I liked The Oxboy, it lacks the spark and charm I have come to appreciate from Anne Mazer, and so is not my favorite.

Which brings me back to Mazer’s other two books! In The Accidental Witch, Bee believes that everything would be perfect if only she could become a witch. Ta-da! One day she’s sitting in her favorite tree in the cemetery, when she loses her balance and falls into the center of senior witch Andelica’s circle. Next thing Bee knows she has magic. Guess what? Through all her attempts to use it, Bee discovers there are actually other ways to solve problems. As for Sister Magic, I thought first that it would just be a fun episodic book. In some ways it is: The girls play in the sprinklers, shop for school shoes, and help out their parents. Except there is also the mysterious package, a visit from a strange uncle, and some unusual events such as laces that kept untying themselves. Through all these events, Mabel gains a little more appreciation for her little sister. In other words, Mazer’s books are not only well-written but fun to read with some good messages to boot! For all these reasons, I’m now a fan.

My rating? Read them: Borrow from your library or a friend. They’re worth your time.

How would you rate these books?

2 Responses to "Three by Anne Mazer"

hey ive missed u ive been so busy with school i go to park its the best school ever i have made alot of friends i play the violin my teammate still sees me

What a nice surprise to hear you! I’m so happy to hear all your wonderful news.

I’m at Clinton, if you’re ever in that neighborhood. You can also reach me by email: ahunter_nf AT yahoo.com

Keep in touch. 🙂

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