Author: Roald Dahl. Illustrator: Quentin Blake. Release date: 1983. Publisher: Jonathan Cape. ISBN: 9780141322643.
Review: The always original Roald Dahl delivers one of his most fun and clever stories in The Witches. Witches often appear in stories, but are never quite so sinister as in this tale. They disguise themselves as regular women, even nice women, but are perpetually homicidal. The description of how they look is so dark it is almost comical. From clawed hands to missing toes, they sound absolutely terrifying, but in a fun way. The grandmother and boy’s encounter with the “RSPCC” at the ritzy English coastal hotel is equally as entertaining. Overall, this is a fun story that tweens will definitely enjoy. Since it was first published, it has appeared often on the ALA’s list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books due to violence and dark tones. Today’s tweens, however, are undoubtedly savvy enough to realize that the violence is very cartoon and the story is actually quite light hearted. Violence has, unfortunately, become engrained in our society to a bigger degree than it was in 1983, and The Witches is far tamer than what tweens are exposed to on an almost daily basis.
Reading level: Grades 3-7
Similar titles: Other Roald Dahl titles.
Personal thoughts: I think this book is hilarious. I loved it as a child and as an adult I can appreciate Roald Dahl’s writing style even more. It is full of ironic and dark humor that I truly think will not be lost on the majority of tween readers. It is very engaging and would make an ideal choice for reluctant readers as well.
Themes: Witches, magic, adventure.
Awards/Reviews: Considered a classic piece of children’s literature.
Series Information: N/A
Boy – The unnamed protagonist. He lives with his grandmother after his parents are killed and becomes involved in a battle against the evil witches of England.
Grandmother – Becomes her grandson’s guardian after his parents’ death. She is kind, loving, and wants to keep her grandson safe from the witches. She is very knowledgeable about witches and lost several friends to them as a young girl.
The Grand High Witch – The leader of the witches, she is described as the most evil woman in the world.
Annotation: What would you do if you stumbled upon a group of witches with a plan to turn all of England’s children into mice? Could you stop them, even if you had already been turned into a mouse yourself?