Cathy Beer reviews a new book for ‘children of all ages’ by Kristina Cooper
[New City Magazine – December 2021]
This unusual book, by Kristina Cooper and beautifully illustrated by Jessica Cooper, has proven appeal for young children and because of the underlying moral values, would be an excellent addition to a primary school library or as a Christmas gift.
Esmeralda is a young witch who struggles between her role and identity of conforming to the expectations of her witch aunts Agatha and Hepzibah. They want her to be bad but she feels happier and more fulfilled in the company of a group of girls called ‘Readies’ who have fun doing good and helping people.
Issues such as bullying, self-image and identity are tackled in a quirky light-hearted way which will undoubtedly promote some interesting discussions.
Esmeralda discovers a book of beauty spells and after experimenting on Philbert the cat, her friends Clare and Angela from the ‘Readies’ beg her to change their image and get rid of features like ‘sticky out ears’, freckles, and red hair. Esmeralda is hesitant because she feels that ‘sticky out ears’ are ‘what makes Clare Clare’, however she goes ahead with the transformations. When they are no longer recognisable and are rejected by friends and family, the two begin to appreciate what it means to be themselves and are relieved when the spell is removed.
Esmeralda’s time at Witchhorn Academy for Young Witches is cut short when she is expelled by headteacher, Miss Groan because of her ‘damaging influence’ on the whole school for being good. She is constantly being admonished by Miss Pincher and Miss Scream for sharing and for not being hurtful to the other students in her class ‘One Toad’. Two students who were progressing well – one by being a selfish bully and the other a whining sneak – begin to change. They start sharing and apologising which of course goes against the whole ethos of the Academy.
The book is full of subtle humour: I had to giggle when Aunt Agatha is furious with Esmeralda, using the same words many children will have heard from their parents, but going in a totally opposite direction:
‘I have just been in your bedroom, and it’s a disgrace! … How many times have I told you, to keep things untidy! But Oh No! You have to tidy everything away and fold up all your clothes and put all your spell books back on the shelves!’ Esmeralda sighed. She was used to being told off about the state of her bedroom. But she couldn’t help it. She liked to see things nice and tidy.
Gradually Esmeralda’s good nature has an influence even on her aunts, who, struggling against their call to be bad, begin to care and even help with fundraising for the rent of the Readies’ meeting hall.
Kristina introduces a few difficult words such as ‘intrigued’, ‘audacity’, ‘eradicate’, explained in a final glossary of ‘Wonder Words’ to encourage children to increase their vocabulary, followed by a couple of pages inviting readers to become ‘Readies’ and collect Ladybird stickers.
The little witch who wanted to be good, by Kristina Cooper. Available from New City. Cost: £7.95 +postage
[See the article in full PDF edition on page 17]