cover image The Witch's Child

The Witch's Child

Arthur Yorinks, , illus. by Jos. A. Smith. . Abrams, $16.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8109-9349-5

For readers seeking a weird and haunting autumn read, this fairy tale by Yorinks (Mommy? ) and Smith (Circus Train ) fits the bill. The opening illustration alone is the stuff of nightmares. A wraithlike woman, clad in a billowing inky-black dress, seems suspended face-down from a branch in an overcast forest of leafless gray trees (she is, apparently, flying). Meet Rosina, a witch who “was powerful and evil and had all there was to have—all but one thing. A child.” Never mind Rosina's evident lack of maternal qualities. She crafts a daughter, from “straw and leaves and clumps of her own hair.” Yet her spells fail to animate the scarecrow-girl, Rosalie, whose empty eyes and limp body are uncanny in their own right, and when real children play too roughly with the doll, Rosina transforms them into thorn bushes (Smith's images here register high on the spine-shivering scale). Like Sleeping Beauty's vines, the magic shrubs enchant would-be visitors until a compassionate girl wanders in. As the visitor cuddles Rosalie, the witch flies in the window and the doll comes to life with a vengeance; in the violent conclusion, unredeemed Rosina brandishes a butcher knife but falls into the fireplace. Yorinks's measured storytelling raises goosebumps, and Smith's surreal, full-bleed images heighten the suspense. Ages 5-9. (Oct.)