by Eva Ibbotson, published 1979
“Belladonna had always been a white witch...Flowers sprung up where she walked, … and from the age of 6, there had always been someone nesting in Belladonna’s golden hair.”
This is probably the most unlikely children’s book I would have ever expected to find myself recommending. Especially after writing a blog post saying that books need to be golden treasures. And after writing about a really good piece of literature about the Dark Rising. But maybe that’s why the universe presented me with this book. First, to say “lighten up.” And second, to point out that a steady diet of really “important’ books might not be so good for kids…or adults!
This book is categorically British Black humor, a genre I don’t think I ever liked in adult media. But in a children’s book, it turns out to be just silly enough, and just funny enough, and just dramatic enough, to be worth reading. I didn’t expect this kind of book, as the other two books I read by Eva Ibbotson, Journey to the River Sea, and The Dragonfly Pool, are quite serious literature. This is strictly comic interlude, with a message if you’re looking for one.
The message is pretty obvious on some levels… the idea that we want to belong. You could read this children’s book as great study about why kids join gangs. You can also read it as a reminder not to take all this stuff about the ‘Dark’ so seriously. And in some ways, that message sinks in subliminally. The ending is completely positive, the good witch wins in the end, and there are multiple happy ever-afters.
I think the main reason I include this book is because it really is a great reminder about the need for laughter, at any age. I recommend the book for older children (11 and up), and I would add the caveat that they be stable kids. If the kids have any proclivity towards violence, instability, or meanness, I’d steer them away from this. But for your average or above-average straight-A student, this is a good read.
(Please note, that on several websites, a search for this book turns up with the book cover of The Shadow Club, a completely different book by a different author. Be sure you are getting the correct book.)