Little Witch Hazel

It is a rare thing to get a child’s-eye glimpse into a hidden, miniature world. And yet that is exactly what happens in Phoebe Wahl’s delightful Little Witch Hazel: A Year in the Forest. Through the use of elegant framing devices and earth-toned illustrations that evoke the world of the woods, we go on four adventures with Little Witch Hazel — and it feels like a privilege.

The protagonist in this story is a feisty little witch with a big heart who has a community of friends made up of dryads, fairies, woodland animals, gnomes, and trolls. All of the action of the story happens on the ground level (where children most often direct their focus). For instance, in the spring season, Little Witch Hazel finds an “orphaned egg” that she takes in and nurtures. To her surprise the next day, an owlet has hatched out. Much of the delight of this book is in the illustrative humor. The owl — whom she names Otis and whose first word is “PLEEP!”  — grows to three times the size of Little Witch Hazel. His rapid growth doesn’t faze Little Witch Hazel in the least, even as she must remind Otis later that “it’s not polite to eat the neighbors!”

The illustrations expertly capture this woodsy world. Wahl uses a palette of colors that evoke the forest floor, such as shades of greens and browns and pops of red and blue. Using digital tools with colored pencil textures, the pictures have an old-world feel to them, almost as though they are lithographs, yet the stories themselves seem fresh and modern. Wahl uses spot art, single- and double-page spreads, frames, and even speech bubbles to convey the joy and humor of this story. 

And it is evident that she is well versed in nature because of her attention to the details in her depictions of mushrooms, mosses, flowers of the season, underground burrows, and the like. The fact that she mixes nature with magical creatures adds to the richness of these tales and makes this a certain favorite for young people who wish upon wish to find the magic of both in their outdoor adventures. Everything — from the front and back endpapers, which are maps of this mysterious, vividly imagined world, to the seasonal chapter headings in which Little Witch Hazel is framed by the plants of each season, the abundant life that grows around her — makes this a well-rounded and satisfying read. Ultimately, the story comes full circle, in part due to Otis the owl who needs rescuing at the beginning but ends up rescuing Little Witch Hazel at the end. 

Between the noble themes of kindness, bravery, and friendship and the meticulous execution of her illustrations of the real and the magical, Wahl’s book could easily qualify for the Caldecott. Through her unique techniques of illustration and her robust writing style, she has somehow managed to give readers young and old a book that speaks to the hopes and dreams of childhood. As we, the reader, walk through the pages with Little Witch Hazel, we are reminded that there really is a bit of magic left in the world. If that’s not a winner, I don’t know what is.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Little Witch Hazel.]

Lisa Meidl

Lisa Meidl is a librarian who serves kids at Willow Brook Elementary School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where her chief aim is to convince her students that they all love books and reading. She is also a member of the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Committee for the Tennessee Association of School Libraries. When she’s not in her school library, she likes to go on the hunt for other libraries. 

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Pauline Wolford

Your Mama is proud of you!❤

Posted : Jan 05, 2022 08:06



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