Witches Handbook, by Mónica Carretero

May 31, 2012

Witches Handbook

I’ve been putting off writing about this particular book. After reading it, I wanted to take a step back, think about it, and avoid writing something that was more knee-jerk reaction than a thoughtful review.

But most of my original knee-jerk reaction still prevails, so I really can’t put this off any longer.

The Book

This picture book, originally written in Spanish, is intended for children ages 5 and up, according to Amazon. It’s rather heavy on the narrative, and some of the vocabulary makes me wonder about claiming a Kindergarten audience, but kids would enjoy sharing this with their parents for a read-aloud. It was written and illustrated by award-winning author and illustrator, Mónica Carretero. Publisher Cuento de Luz has made this picture book adaptation available in English (in Spanish it’s titled Manual de Brujas).

The Story

Siblings receive a letter from estranged Aunt Amarga, enticing them to visit her to find out if witches really do exist. You see, Aunt Amarga’s life is coming to an end and she doesn’t want “the secret” to be lost forever. When the children visit her, she tells them all about witches and even warlocks. This includes information on how to recognize a witch, famous witches and warlocks (including well-known characters such as the witches from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty), the broom as a mode of transportation, and others. By the end of the story, the kids are in for a surprise and learn something that even Aunt Amarga did not know.

The Good

This book is appealing for kids who enjoy fairy tales, stories about witches, and not-so-scary stories. It is well-written and there are several instances where the narrative directly addresses the reader, inviting them to engage in several ways with the story. At the end of the manual, kids will enjoy a word puzzle, riddles, and even learn how to cook spell-removing pancakes. There are many whimsical aspects to the story and parts that will have children chuckling.

The Not So Good

I will admit, I am a fan of a good, scary story. I am also inclined to the magical and the funny. I don’t mind the not-so-scary, such as this book, but I do not appreciate the one-sided witches story that presents only a negative message. The author tells us that witches are bad. They are bad because they are lonely. If only someone had given them one kiss; it would have done them “so much good”. Recognizing witches is easy. Simply look for someone who dresses outlandishly and don’t be fooled by an innocent appearance. To make sure you have found a witch, try to approach her affectionately. A witch will reveal herself (become ugly with a bigger nose, apparently), and turn away.

All of that by page 8 (out of 32).

There is simply too much in this book that serves to perpetuate various negative stereotypes. For example, that ugly people are bad, that people who dress “differently” are weird, that there is something wrong if a woman remains single, that there is something wrong with people who don’t like or cannot receive affection as easily as others, etc. The messages clash with the whimsical writing, the bright and colorful illustrations, and the seemingly positive relationship between Aunt Amarga and her niece and nephew.

The Art (the best part!)

I am not a fan of watercolor art. However, Mónica Carretero expertly uses this medium to create bright and colorful characters that come to life on paper. She has my deepest respect as an illustrator and the illustrations in this book make me want to see more of her work. Each character is carefully planned and full of detail that manages to be captivating but not overwhelming.

Have you read this book?

If you have read this book (in either language), I’d love to know what you think.

Would  you recommend this book to parents and their children? Why?

Do you have reservations when it comes to this book?

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