Children’s Book News: October 2020

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, translated by Emily Balistrieri, illustrations by Yuta Onodaby

Suggested ages:  8-12 years

Delivery services have become a significant necessity for many in our world of today. But this delivery service is unique, for Kiki is a half-witch! According to legend, witches possess two magic abilities, but Kiki, being a half-witch, only possesses one, which is the art of broom flying. No magic will come to her rescue when facing everyday problems. She will have to depend on her own ingenuity as we all do.
Most importantly, she is turning 13, and so is expected to follow the tradition of leaving her hometown and living in a new village for a year.

Kiki and her faithful and rather sassy cat, Jiji, leave family and friends behind as they search for the perfect spot in which to settle. Koriko, a village by the sea, becomes their new home. Here Kiki is determined to dispel commonly held notions of witches. She yearns to make friends as well as to be a positive contributor to life in Koriko. Kiki’s decision to establish a delivery service – dependent on broom flying of course! – benefits from her spunkiness and creativity. Her new business becomes a vehicle for imaginative and sometimes humorous solutions to various predicaments her neighbors find themselves in. And, in turn, misconceptions about witches fade away. Communication and cooperation bring about new friendships for both Kiki and the Koriko villagers.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a 1989 Japanese animated film which was adapted from Eiko Kadono’s children’s novel of 1985. An English dub of the film was released in U.S. theaters in 1997 followed by a home video version in 1998. In 2020 an English translation of Kadono’s book was published in the U.S. In a note from the author, she expresses delight that her book is now available for children in the United States so they too may share in Kiki’s adventure and feel the magic that is in each of them.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Suggested ages: 4-7  years

Using a simple rhyme scheme, Donaldson opens her clever tale with a witch and her cat enjoying the pleasures of broom flying. But it is not long before the scene is disrupted by a sudden wild wind which drops the witch’s hat to the ground.  Landing, they search all about until a dog appears with hat in mouth, saving the day.  And then he inquires if there is “room on the broom” so he can join the ride. As more mishaps occur, various animals come to the rescue after which they always find that there is “room on the broom” for one more.  Eventually, this congenial group comes upon a threatening dragon.  The witch’s broom companions find a clever way to deal with this menace. In return, the witch uses her magic power, along with a donation from each of her new friends, to create a broom that young readers will delight in.

Scheffler’s illustrations bring humor and whimsy to the story, along with a uniquely conceived witch.  Though she boasts the typical warty nose, black cape and cauldron, her smiles, along with her polka-dot hair bow and colorful outfit, create a witch that children may also want to join on that broom!

A Very Witchy Spelling Bee, by George Shannon, illustrated by Mark Fearing

Suggested ages: 4-8 years

Spelling may not be every child’s favorite drill, but Shannon weaves a bewitching tale that will change children’s perception of spelling and the “magical” way words can be transformed by adding only one letter.  Young witch, Cordelia, is passionate about spelling and finds delight in using her spells to change objects with the zap of a single letter – a cat becomes a coat! When Cordelia sees that “The Witches’ Double Spelling Bee” is soon approaching, she is determined to enter, even though there has never been a participant younger than fifty-two.  In fact, the most recent winner, Beulah, was the ripe old age of two hundred and three!

The rules for this spelling bee turn out to be unique as well as challenging.  The speller must spell the name of a given object and then with a randomly chosen letter, change the word, and thus the object, into something completely new. Though this double spelling is a favorite of Cordelia, her nemesis, Beulah, doesn’t hesitate to work her spells upon the young contestant.  Cordelia finds that with a zap from Beulah, her ears are turned into pears and her hair stiffens into a chair.  However, in the end, Cordelia finds a clever spell to create a satisfying ending for all. 

The action filled illustrations along with the expressive faces of a multitude of green-faced witches will draw young readers into this unique tale, while also enticing them to try their own hand at double magical spelling!