I’d been hearing great things about the Winnie the Witch picture books ever since I first became a mum more than five years ago, but it wasn’t until last year that we first read one. It was Winnie’s Pirate Adventure, given to Little Miss E, who was four at the time, as a gift. We loved this tale of magic and adventure so much that when I saw the collection of 14 selling on The Book People website for just £15, I bought it straight away.
Winnie the Witch is the first book in the series, written back in 1987, and although you could read any of the books independently and still enjoy them just as much, it’s a great introduction to the collection.
Winnie lives in a black house, with black chairs, carpets, stairs and furniture. It’s little wonder she finds herself tripping over her black cat Wilbur, because he blends into the background so well. She transforms him into a green cat – but then she can’t see him in the grass outside. She changes him into a multi-coloured cat – but he looks so ridiculous, even the birds laugh at him. She finally uses her magic to come up with a colourful solution that means she can always keep an eye on Wilbur and he’s happy too.
One of the things I love about the Winnie books is that they feature a strong female lead character without an inch of pink in sight. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with pink or ballerinas or fairies or princesses – but I want my daughter and my sons to know there’s a bigger place for women in literature than that. Winnie has straggly black hair, a long red nose, and black lips – she doesn’t look anything like the heroines in other books, yet she always has a big smile on her face and it’s clear that witches aren’t always the baddies in literature.
Winnie goes on magical adventures with pirates and dinosaurs, heads under the sea, and into space, sometimes getting things wrong, but she’s a very loveable character, with rather a lot of depth for someone in a picture book. I think that’s why Little Miss E, now 5.5, and Little Man O, 3¾ both seem to love these books equally.
They very quickly started shouting Winnie’s magic word, Abracadabra, whenever it appears in the book, and casting magic spells themselves. The Winnie books are regular bedtime stories in our house.
My children love Valerie Thomas’s fast-paced prose, but they are equally as absorbed by Korky Paul’s illustrations too. The pictures are quirky with so much detail in them and plenty of emotion too.
We’ve read and re-read all the picture books in the series so many times over the last year. They are short enough to keep the attention of young children, but the language is exciting enough that Miss E is still as engaged by them. They get so excited when they see the Winnie board books for babies and toddlers in the library, insisting we borrow them for Baby Boy.
They haven’t yet realised there’s a whole other collection of Winnie books aimed at the over fives. These young reader books are written by Laura Owen, rather than Valerie Thomas, but the illustrations are still by Korky Paul. Now that Little Miss E is reading by herself, I think these will have to be next on our list.
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