Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones

It’s possible that I kept thinking of Pippi Longstocking when I was reading this book by Diana Wynne Jones, author of Howl’s Moving Castle and many other fantasy favorites, because Paul Zelinsky’s illustrations reminded me of Lauren Child’s pictures of of Pippi. Maybe it’s just the electric pigtails that both Pippi and Earwig share. It’s also possible that Earwig is a cross between Pippi and some random wizard. Someone left Earwig at St. Morwald’s Home for Children with this message pinned to her basket: “Got the other twelve witches all chasing me. I’ll be back for her when I’ve shook them off. It may take years. Her name is Earwig.”

Earwig likes her life at the orphanage, but when she is chosen to go live with Bella Yaga the cruel witch and a terrifying man with horns who doesn’t like being disturbed, Earwig makes herself at home and tries to work a deal: housecleaning help in return for witchcraft lessons. Bella Yaga doesn’t want to teach Earwig anything, though, so Earwig must decide how she’s going to cope with her new life and make it suit her in spite of the lack of cooperation from her foster “parents.”

Earwig and the Witch is an early chapter book, and as such it’s not really too scary or too complicated. The scary parts involve worms and some swirly-smoky demons. The plot has Earwig doing just what she wants to do in spite of those who might try to thwart her desires. The theme seems to be” “If life hands you witches and demons, make lemonade. Or cast spells.” This one is appropriate for beginning readers, unless you don’t care for the whole witches and spell-casting thing. It might have been meant to be the start of a series, but unfortunately, Ms. Jones died last year (2011).

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