This is the first time that I was really underwhelmed with one of the books that has been voted on to the Top 100 Chapter Books list. At number 81, The Witches is one of four Roald Dahl books on the list — higher than The BFG and below Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. But where those other three books have really fun stories and good messages about imagination and belief and strength, I was unable to figure out the point of this one at all. In fact, as it ended, Z and I looked at each other and said something like “wow … this is a book about mass murder.”
What it’s about: An English boy loses his parents in an accident and ends up living with his Norwegian grandmother, a woman obsessed with witches. She tells the boy all sorts of things about what witches do (kill children) and how to spot them (by their bewigged heads, toeless feet, clawed fingers and blue spit). What a surprise then when they end up at an English seaside hotel that happens to also be hosting a convention for all of the witches in England!
Age level: Grades 3-6
Best part: This is a Roald Dahl story so it’s a fun read, even if the subject matter is odd.
Worst part: Grandmama’s black cigars which she smokes incessantly. It’s an incredibly filthy habit and yet she’s proud of smoking non-stop. Blech.
I had never read this story before which is a bit strange since I read some other Roald Dahl books over and over when I was a kid. Perhaps I was a bit creeped out by the cover or maybe my religious upbringing steered me away from picking up a story about witches. Z and I both liked this book alright but it wasn’t a favorite.
**SPOILER** The thing that disturbed me the most was not the diabolical witches nor the kitchen staff that attacked mice with the same knives they were using for food prep. It was toward the end of the story when Grandmama told the boy that he would remain a mouse forever and he said that it was okay because they would both likely only live about six years longer and that was fine with him. It was a terrible message, especially while reading it to an only child. There are obviously many reasons to keep living beyond when a caregiver or parent dies. This was just such a bleak sentiment. **END SPOILER**
I’m definitely looking forward to the next book, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’ve only ever read The Secret Garden, but I’ve read it probably a dozen times. I’m excited to finally read another of Burnett’s tales.