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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Challenge results 09/21-10/03

October 4, 2009


Here are the completed challenges.

Please join us next Monday. If you are looking for a different and engaging way to write, then I recommend trying Write or Die! It’s a blast and it really helps.

Enjoy!
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Click here to see the written entries

Click here to see the graphic design entries

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Here were the instructions for this week’s writing and graphic design challenges:

Challenge for writers, by Bonet Graphic Designs

Halloween is coming!

In honor of this awesome holiday, write a 500-1,000 word Halloween themed story for children/young adults (anywhere from 8-18). Vampires, zombies, werewolves, fairies–anything you can imagine!

Keep it PG please! PG-13 is okay too.

Challenge for graphic designers, by Prisca

Halloween is in the air…

…And in every store I walk into! September is not over yet and they’ve been selling the merchandise for weeks. I love it! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year and I can’t wait to see all the gals and ghouls dressed in their favorite costumes.

That said, I want you to create a Halloween-themed design that can go on a T-shirt (a black T-shirt, of course!). The design you create has to represent some aspect of Halloween. Remember these are kid-friendly sites, so your designs cannot be rated above PG-13!

Have fun!

Remember to post your story/design no later than Saturday 10/03/09 by 11:59 pm. If you want me to post it for you, please e-mail it to me before the deadline!
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Monday Challenge 09/21/09

September 21, 2009

Hi folks! Wondering where last week’s challenge is? Erm…so are we. Blame it on the lack of sleep and caffeine if you want (that’s what I’m clinging to, dangit!). By the time we remembered, it was Friday!

Here are this week’s challenges! Remember, these challenges are now posted every two weeks (um…from now on).

If you are curious about this challenge and want to know more/participate, please read this first.

Challenge for writers, by Bonet Graphic Designs

Halloween is coming!

In honor of this awesome holiday, write a 500-1,000 word Halloween themed story for children/young adults (anywhere from 8-18). Vampires, zombies, werewolves, fairies–anything you can imagine!

Keep it PG please! PG-13 is okay too.

Challenge for graphic designers, by Prisca

Halloween is in the air…

…And in every store I walk into! September is not over yet and they’ve been selling the merchandise for weeks. I love it! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year and I can’t wait to see all the gals and ghouls dressed in their favorite costumes.

That said, I want you to create a Halloween-themed design that can go on a T-shirt (a black T-shirt, of course!). The design you create has to represent some aspect of Halloween. Remember these are kid-friendly sites, so your designs cannot be rated above PG-13!

Have fun!

Remember to post your story/design no later than Saturday 10/03/09  by 11:59 pm. If you want me to post it for you, please e-mail it to me before the deadline!
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The Demon’s Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan

August 29, 2009

Rating: 4/5

Rating: 4/5

Wow, it’s been a few days since I’ve had the chance to post to this blog. It’s been quite the whirlwind week since school started. Next week things should settle down to structured chaos. I am now taking two classes (one of which is statistics, yikes!), teaching an Introduction to Children’s Lit. class, and am the “go-to” person of a program for pre-service teachers. “Scheduling” has become a four letter word! But everything is working out and I am really happy about the way things turned out this summer/fall.

Will this affect my review of books, you ask? No! On the contrary, since my specialization is in Children’s Literature, I get to keep reading this for my classes! How cool is that?

Well, before classes officially began, I had the opportunity to read “The Demon’s Lexicon”, by Sarah Rees Brennan and I’m still deciding if I love it or not. The 4/5 rating means that it is a good book, but I honestly struggled between that and a 4.5 rating. It’s just one of those books I believe readers will feel really strongly about; either love or hate. I’ll wait to read book two before really deciding which way to go. In the meantime, this is a worthwhile read!

Nick and Alan are two brothers on the run from the different circles of magicians that want the amulet their mother wears around her neck. Unfortunately, that’s what’s keeping their mother alive, so they can’t simply hand it over. They have managed to evade the evil circles so far, but it seems the magicians are getting desperate as they double their efforts to capture the family. Nick and Alan encounter more problems when two visitors come asking for their help. The brothers are forced to play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, while time is running out for them and the secrets of their past might destroy everything they have tried so hard to forge.

Nick is a character I was constantly getting irritated with. Though he has ample reason to be ticked off at the world because of the hand he’s been dealt in life, he tends to take everything to extremes. He’s always out to intimidate, maim or kill…even if he doesn’t quite understand why. The way the narrative is written, Nick plays a tug-of-war game with the reader, daring you to love him one moment and hate him the next until you’re not quite sure what is going on anymore.

This is how it played out for me: I pitied him. Then I disliked him for always taking things to the extreme. Then I liked him. Then…I understood him. That last one is rather creepy and I would explain what I mean, but then I’d give the entire book away.

It’s rare to find a book that sends me on such a roller-coaster. That’s what I loved about it. However, there were a couple of things that prevented the 5/5 rating.

First, the main female character’s purpose seems to be only to stir things up between Nick and Alan and she is never really fleshed out. The same goes with her brother. All we know is that he’s frail, shy, cute, caring and gay…dangerously leaning towards being a stereotypical character.

Hopefully the second book will flesh out these characters to the point where they can stand on their own. I look forward to reading it.

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