cover image Earwig and the Witch

Earwig and the Witch

Diana Wynne Jones, illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky. Greenwillow, $15.99 (128p) ISBN 978-0-06-207511-6

This funny story updates fairy tale conventions while highlighting Jones’s subversive wit and her firm belief that children can control their own lives. Earwig rules the roost at St. Morwald’s Home for Children until she is adopted by a witchy woman named Bella Yaga with “one brown eye and one blue one, and a raggety, ribby look to her face.” Earwig hopes to learn magic from Bella Yaga, but is trapped in the woman’s decrepit house, sharing it with the Mandrake, an impossibly tall and grouchy being. Powerful and evil, Bella Yaga uses Earwig as a second pair of hands for grinding up disgusting things in bowls (“The only thing wrong with magic is that it smells so awful,” Earwig quips). The witch and the Mandrake, however, have never before dealt with a determined girl who claims alpha status; Zelinsky’s spot art, not all seen by PW, makes it clear that the squinty, pigtailed heroine is not someone to be trifled with. Featuring delightfully odd characters and eccentric magic, this all too brief tale is a fine introduction to the late author’s more complex YA novels. Ages 8–12. Agent: Laura Cecil. (Feb.)