Allison's Book Bag

QUICK TAKE: The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes

Posted on: January 25, 2012

What a delightful find! Although I grew up reading several books by Eleanor Estes, until recently I hadn’t the pleasure of discovering The Witch Family. This book is a fun blend of imagination and fantasy.

One day, Amy and her friend Clarissa banish Old Witch to the top of an “awful, high, lonely, bare, bleak, and barren glass hill.” At first, I wasn’t sure if Old Witch was real or just a character in wild stories that Amy’ mom would tell the girls. When Amy’s mom tells about a particularly bad deed by the Old Witch, Amy and Clarissa started drawing pictures in which they banish Old Witch to the top of a barren glass hill. Having a change of heart, Amy later writes a note telling Old Witch that she could return once a year on Halloween. Estes writes that because Amy is only seven, her spelling isn’t perfect but that doesn’t matter because witches are used to doing everything backward and forward and backward again. See how it could sound like imagination?

Yet the second chapter starts out: “One day, Old Witch was rocking in her wicker rocker on the creaky front porch of the witch house. She was not happy, and she was brooding. She did not like it up here on this bare, bleak glass hill.” In this chapter, we also meet Old Tom. He’s a witch cat, who most of the time seems irrelevant to the story. The more important animal in The Witch Family is a bumblebee that Amy names Malachi. For reasons never explained, Malachi flies after the Old Witch on her banishment day. Old Witch inadvertently reads an incantation that bestows Malachi with many protective powers—and the ability to spell words. Yes, all of these characters are as real as our two seven-year-old heroines.

After Amy banishes the Old Witch through her drawings, she stays in contact with her through letters delivered by a cardinal. Her next letter tells Old Witch to “sing an abracadabra, close your eyes, and then open them again, and you might have company”. When Old Witch opened her eyes, what did she see? A little witch girl! Next, Amy and Clarissa draw a school. And then a picture of the little witch girl arriving late to school. Pages later, in another blend of imagination fantasy, Amy and Clarissa think they see the little witch girl fly by their window. The two worlds continue to blur, until our two heroines end up attending the little witch girl’s birthday party and she ends up going out with them on Halloween. That isn’t to say this is simply a fun romp in imagination. When Old Witch tires of her banishment, she brews up some very real trouble. Exactly what, I’ll leave it to you to find out.

As for me, I’m more anxious than ever to reread the rest of Eleanor Estes’ books. She knows how to write about the daily adventures, along with the more unusual happenings, of young people.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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