Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Illustrator: Marion Lindsay
Year published: 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Number of pages: 140
Recommended age: 6-10
Child Rating: ★★★★★
Grown-up Rating: ★★★★★
Reviewed by: Renee and Danielle (Mother and Daughter)
Summary (from publisher’s website): Everyone knows that orphanages are horrible places. But Earwig has a surprising amount of power over everyone else at St Morwald’s Home for Children, and loves it there. So the last thing she wants is to be sent to live with the very strange Bella Yaga…
Earwig was left at St Morwald’s as a baby. Unlike the other children, she loves it there, mostly because she has the run of the place and seems to be able to persuade people to do as she wants. Then one day Earwig is chosen to live with a very strange couple: Bella Yaga, her new ‘mother’, is actually a horrible witch. Earwig will need all her ingenuity (and some help from a talking cat) to survive…
With terrific line drawings that perfectly complement Diana’s witty, magical story, this is sure to appeal to a new generation of fans.
What it’s about: This book is about a girl named Earwig who is adopted from an orphanage by a witch named Bella Yaga and a weird demon-type person – the Mandrake. She makes a deal with the witch that if she cleans the house, then the witch will teach her magic. The witch doesn’t teach her so she decides to cast her own spells.
What I liked and disliked about it: I really liked this book. Earwig is funny. At the beginning of the book she wants to stay in the orphanage, but by the end of the book, she wants to stay with the witch and the Mandrake. I really like the characters in the book because you wouldn’t have people like that (witches, talking cats, Mandrakes, demons) in real life.
I like that this book has magic in it. If I could do magic I would cast a spell so that I can fly. The spell she casts on Bella Yaga is the funniest one.
This book is mostly not scary but there are some scary parts. The Mandrake is sometimes scary like when he comes through the wall after Earwig sticks worms through holes in the wall into his room. It was also a bit scary when Earwig first meets the Mandrake and every time she looks at him, he gets taller. He would be more scary if it was real life and he was in color. The demons aren’t scary. The pictures of them are like tornadoes with dragon wings and tails.
My bottom line: I really loved this book and would recommend it to both boys and girls who are my age and a little bit younger and older.
What it’s about: This story opens with the introduction of Earwig, a little girl with mysterious origins, in an orphanage. Earwig is reluctantly adopted by what turns out to be a mean witch and an ominous Mandrake to be the household’s slave. Earwig quickly strikes a bargain with the witch – servitude in exchange for lessons in magic. When it becomes obvious that the witch has no intention of keeping up her end of the bargain, brave little Earwig enlists the help of the talking cat Thomas, to cast spells on the witch. However, Earwig must be careful not to raise the ire of the fiery Mandrake who has a number of demons under his control.
What I liked and disliked about it: What an original and charming story – loved it! The cast of characters, which include witches, Mandrakes, demons, and talking animals, and the quirky black and white illustrations create a certain darkness and tension in the book. However, the story itself is humorous and Earwig is so brave and strong as a central character, that it balances itself out to be such a great book.
The illustrations in this book play a key role in setting the mood. On every page, there is a header of a black bird on a thorny branch and a spider in the footer. There are many illustrations most of which use up less than half of one page. The illustrations seem to work in setting up a cartoon-ish feel to the book. I think they may actually help to ease some of the tension – especially around conceptions of the Mandrake and his demons. Danielle is very sensitive to pictures in books and she was not bothered by any of the illustrations in this one.
The Mandrake is one scary dude! I, myself, wasn’t scared but when I was reading it, I thought, “Danielle will be terrified of this”. She wasn’t though. He is described at one point in this way:
Peeping from where she crouched, Earwig saw scaly paws, ratty tails, slimy hooves, horny wingtips and many queerer things that were parts of the host of demons following the Mandrake. She did not try to see all of any of them. In fact some of them made her hide her face in her hands.
I would like to reiterate, that
I Danielle did not find any of this frightening. Thrilling – yes; frightening – no.
When I read the book, I immediately understood that there was something special about Earwig and that there is a bit of a mystery as to who exactly she is. However, when Danielle and I discussed this “mystery”, it was not something that had registered with her when she read it. I think the mystery of Earwig may have been a bit too subtle for Danielle to pick up on and this probably would be the case for most children. While not central to the story, what this mystery does though, is set up future books by Ms. Wynne Jones which delve deeper into Earwig’s past. (She says with fingers crossed!)
My bottom line: Yes – LOVED it! I can’t really compare Earwig to other central female characters like Judy Moody, Clementine, or Ivy and Bean because, well, they don’t have witches, Mandrakes, and demons to deal with in their daily lives. At the end of the day, I quite liked Earwig and how she was courageous, creative and adaptable. Because of the darkness and possible “scariness” of the story for younger audiences, I would recommend this book primarily to girls between the ages of 6 and 10 (it is a very easy read for a 10-year old), although younger boys may really enjoy it as well.
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