cover image The Widow's Broom

The Widow's Broom

Chris Van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $18.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-64051-7

When Minna Shaw comes into possession of a witch's broom, it is as if good fortune itself has dropped from the sky. The broom sweeps on its own and does other chores; it can even pick out simple tunes on the piano. The widow's ignorant neighbors hate and torment the implement, though, fearing what they cannot understand; but in the end the widow and her broom triumph. This resonant tale, one of its gifted author/illustrator's most impressive efforts, effectively draws on mystery and whimsy alike--both human nature and the supernatural are powerful forces here. Van Allsburg's grainy, sepiatone illustrations variously evoke brooding, suspicion, grandeur, humor and serenity. Many individual pictures are haunting--amid a tangle of squash vines, for example, lies the fallen witch, with only one of her hands visible--and in composite they reverberate powerfully indeed. The narrative's subtle conclusion will evoke pleasurable shudders, as readers (gradually, perhaps) become aware of what has transpired. Both visually and narratively, a provocative and altogether satisfying work. All ages. (Sept.)