Old Favorite: The Witch Family

This week, we’re featuring another Old Favorite that’s perfect for October–The Witch Family, by Eleanor Estes!

* * *

Amy and Clarissa have been best friends forever. People even think they look like sisters, with blue eyes and long straight blonde hair (although Clarissa’s  is bright like the sun, and Amy’s shines like the moon). They live only three houses apart, on a beautiful lane called Garden Street, near Washington, D.C.  Their favorite thing to do when they’re together on a gloomy day is to draw pictures and listen to stories about Old Witch told by Amy’s mother.

One afternoon in February, after hearing another story about Old Witch’s terrible, wicked ways, Amy and Clarissa decide that she has to be banished. So that’s exactly what they do. They banish her to live on a glass hill, with no flowers, no cute bunny rabbits and no magic powers. Just herbs, and a spelling bee named Malachi, and the chance to come back for Halloween to lead the witches hurly-burly, IF Old Witch can be good.

Old Witch finds living at the top of a glass hill with no magic, and only the companionship of her cat Old Tom (who ended up there with her) and a spelling bee  rather boring.  She longs to have something interesting to do, or for someone to visit. So what does she do? She tries a spell.  Even though her magic is not supposed to work, this spell is powerful. It should have brought something nice to her doorstep–some tasty rabbits, her old enemy The Green Caterpillar Witch– something to break the boredom of living on the shiny glass hill.  What does she get?  A Little Witch Girl, with her own Little Tommy witch kitten and her own  little broomstick. Hannah (for that’s Little Witch’s real name) has straight blonde hair (which should never be combed) and her own magical powers.

Amy and Clarissa, back on Garden Street, keep themselves informed of Old Witch’s wicked witchy ways. Malachi buzzes back and forth, bearing letters. It seems that Little Witch Girl and Malachi are helping Old Witch change for the better.  Soon, Little Witch Girl finds herself able to leave Old Witch to attend Witch School, and together, they’re caring for a Weeny Witchy Baby. Little Witch Girl even meets a mermaid, who lives inside the glass mountain!

But is Old Witch truly reformed?  On Halloween, she witches her way into their world, and Amy and Clarissa find themselves in her power.  Will Little Witch Girl and her friends be able to help the girls? Has Amy and Clarissa’s meddling changed Old Witch’s nature for the better, or are they in grave danger?

* * *

The Witch Family was written in 1960, and has holds up well for being 50 years old!  There’s not a TV or computer in sight…Amy and Clarissa spend most of their time playing outside and telling stories. When they’re inside, they draw or play imaginary games.

Does Old Witch live just in Amy and Clarissa’s imagination, or is she real?  Each reader has to decide for themselves.

The general consensus among my friends was that it was all real. I remember loving Little Witch Girl and Malachi and Lurie and all the other characters living on the Glass Hill…as well as being a little afraid of Old Witch. This book was passed around the classroom, and in third grade, I remember we put on a play based on the further adventures of Amy and Clarissa and The Little Witch Girl and Malachi.  It probably wasn’t very good, but we certainly had fun!

Eleanor Estes was a children’s librarian in Connecticut and New York. She obviously understood children, because her books have been very popular, and continue to be read, fifty or sixty years after their original publication.  She received several awards for her writing, including one Newbery Award for Ginger Pye and three Newbery Honors–The Middle Moffat, Rufus M., and The Hundred Dresses.  Her final book, The Curious Adventures of Jimmy McGee,  was published the year before she died in 1987, and is a sequel to The Witch Family, with Amy and Clarissa telling the story of a plumber named Jimmy who finds a magical stovepipe hat. At the time of her death at the age of 82, Eleanor Estes had written 18 books for young readers and one adult novel.

The Witch Family is a great book to read aloud to a group. Amy and Clarissa are about eight years old, so its probably aimed at third and fourth grade readers. If you have witch fans in your house, or are looking for a not TOO scary Halloween story, this could be enjoyed by kids as young as five.  Fifth or sixth grader readers who missed this when they were eight might enjoy the look back into their early elementary years.

So if you’re looking for a fun, slightly old fashioned favorite for Halloween, try The Witch Family. It’s a great read!


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