The Witch Family

by Eleanor Estes

Other authorsEdward Ardizzone (Illustrator)
Paperback, 2000



Local notes

PB Est




HMH Books for Young Readers (2000), Edition: 1, 240 pages


Two little girls who love to draw witches build an elaborate world around the imaginary Old Witch and her family.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

240 p.; 5.13 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member Treeseed
Enough is enough! Old Witch is banished or "banquished" as seven year old Amy pronounces it.

Amy and Clarissa are two little girls who are best friends and they are fascinated with all things magical, especially witches. They love to draw and they spend a lot of their time making drawing after
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drawing of witches. They first hear of Old Witch, who is the head of all the witches in the world, in stories that Amy's mother loves to tell them. Old Witch eats rabbits whole and dances hurly-burlies and casts wicked abracadabras and reads from a thick old book filled with magical runes. There's really no telling what evil thing she will do next so Amy banishes Old Witch to a remote and barren glass hill and forbids her to leave it. At first Amy allows Old Witch nothing but the few things she can create by magic in such a barren and bleak place like a rickety old house with a front porch, a rocking chair and a few herbs for dinner. Of course she has her broom and pointy black hat and her black cat, Old Tom. After all she is a witch. If she can learn to be good she can come down from the hill of glass on Halloween night and behave like a proper Old Witch and do lots of delightfully wicked things. If she does not mend her ways and follow the rules and stay on the glass hill then she will not be allowed to celebrate Halloween. It's that simple and because Amy is seven and because she says so, that is exactly what happens to Old Witch. Amy knows that she can't expect total goodness. What fun would Halloween be without Old Witch up to her usual tricks?

The Witch Family is a delightful mixture of the real world where Amy and Clarissa live and the fantasy world of the witches. Everything that Amy and Clarissa put into their drawings becomes "real" in the witch world. They can even send letters back and forth between the two worlds and they know a red cardinal bird who is happy to carry the messages in his beak. They are not unkind though and they quickly realize that it must be very lonely for Old Witch up on that slippery glass hill so they allow her to abracadabra herself a companion. They draw a picture of Hannah, Little Witch Girl and she soon shows up atop the glass hill much to the delight of Old Witch. She is a good little witch and becomes friends with Amy and Clarissa. Old Witch is Hannah's gammer or grandmother. Eventually, a Weeny Witch baby named BeeBee joins them on the glass hill. They each have a black cat in the corresponding size. A Little Mermaid and a Baby Mermaid live in a grotto inside the glass hill and become their friends but they don't tell Old Witch about the mermaids because they know she would immediately start thinking about fishing poles. Of course Little Witch Girl has to fly her broom to Witch School every day so Amy and Clarissa also draw the other six witch students and the witch teacher and the classroom and all their school adventures.

Now it is very hard to control a disobedient and crafty hag like Old Witch because her appetite for wickedness is so strong and luckily Amy is able to enlist the help of a sleepy, old bumblebee that she finds hibernating in her yard. This is no ordinary bumblebee. It is a spelling bee named Malachi. He speaks aloud by spelling out the words. Malachi protects Little Witch Girl and keeps his three bee eyes on Old Witch and keeps her in check...most of the time.

Written in 1960, which at age 8 is when I originally read it, The Witch Family was and is one of my favorite books. The author, Eleanor Estes, has written many, many wonderful books for children including a popular (at least in my day) series about the Moffat Family that includes the delightful Rufus M. She received the Newbery Medal for Ginger Pye.

This book is filled with creativity and fun on every single page. The illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, executed with pen and ink, are sprinkled liberally throughout the text and add greatly to the atmosphere and characterizations since they are so in sync with the vision of the author.

When I was a little girl I loved this book because it fulfilled my number one requirement for a good fantasy...the kids in the book really experience the magic. Witches and mermaids are real. Flying on a broomstick is real. Magical spells work! Bees can talk and the children don't wake up the next day and find that it is all a dream. The children in the story interact with the fantasy characters in their own world and in the fantasy world which to them is also real. What is so splendid about the way Estes wrote this story is that she does elude to the fact that Amy and Clarissa are imagining the witches and their glass hill and all the adventures but Estes realizes that for some lucky children the line between fantasy and reality really does vanish. So the child readers can say to themselves, "This is pretend but it's as real as I want it to be," which is, of course, very real indeed. The reader senses that Eleanor Estes knows all about "real" of course this dear book proves she does.

Estes uses a writing style that never talks down to its young readers (recommended age group is 9-12). Many challenging words will help build young vocabularies. She throws in real information about bumblebees that also helps to blur the lines of fantasy and reality. Traditional mythical witch and mermaid lore embellishes the plot and adds color and excitement. This might be one small area that Pagan parents will object to in that she does reference Bacchanalia and Saturnalia several times in the story but does not do so in a realistic way but rather in the stereotypical and make-believe Halloween Witch way. At the time this book was written I am quite sure that the author had no idea that these rites were still very much alive and in practice. In thinking of them as obsolete she therefore felt it was fine to treat them as entirely make-believe. Pagan children may be confused by this but their parents can overcome this by reminding them that it is intended to be pretend in every way while helping them with lessons about the historical and actual celebrations.

The book culminates on Halloween and children will enjoy reading about a good old-fashioned 1950s-early 1960s style night of trick-or-treating, the way it was before our culture lost its innocence and we came to fear for our children's safety even in our own neighborhoods. Estes captures the thrill in the air and the spooky excitement in which children gloried in those bygone days and shares it with us. They run from door to door, going inside and visiting each of their neighbors who try to guess each child hidden behind a false face. They fill their bags to bulging with pop-corn balls, homemade brownies and cookies, apples, pennies and Tootsie Rolls. Parents hide in the shadows, keeping an eye on the very smallest while the other children run wild and free, fully expecting to see witches and ghouls and goblins. Estes conjures this magical night and spares no element of its joy.

Nighttime came. Wind began to howl. Hobgoblins filled the air. The moon rose, and like a true Halloween moon, now it disappeared behind the swift swirling clouds, and now it came out again. Vapors came and vapors vanished.......
Old Witch mounted her broomstick, true witch sideways style, and muttered the appropriate incantation. Old Tom leaped on. His back was arched and his hair was bristling in the true Halloween style. Away and up and off they flew, on their way to the saturnalia, which is a place for witch wickedness.

There is plenty of humor in the story and Old Witch is actually quite a funny, cantankerous old thing with a big soft spot in her wizened heart for her Witch family.

This is a great story, filled to the brim with fun and exciting adventures. The ending is clever and satisfying and does not let young readers down. While the story reaches a conclusion the reader is left with their vision of magical fantasy intact.

I was surprised when I re-read this book for the purpose of writing this review to see by contrast how dumbed-down so much of current children's literature has become. I found that sadly, the vocabulary in this book and the subtleties of thought and story construction were as much a source of nostalgia for me as the setting and story itself. It is a gem of juvenile literature that I hope never goes out of print. Treat your children to The Witch Family this Halloween. Getting them to enjoy it will require no trick.
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LibraryThing member BooXO789
I think the author was trying to really put me into the book.(Which she did) But like each chapter, she described something that made me want to read more!
LibraryThing member lgray724
One of my all-time favorite kids' books.
LibraryThing member momma2
The kids enjoyed this one but it was not my favorite Eleanor Estes book. It was difficult to read aloud with the spelling bee and some of the babyish language the characters used. And the story was a little silly... a departure from the Moffats or Ginger Pye for sure.
LibraryThing member TadAD
Simply one of the best.
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Oh my. ?�This is the kind of book I loved when I was a child, and now it would make a terrific family read-aloud for the week of Halloween. ?áIt's a full-length chapter book, so it would take a little while, but it'd be worth it. ?áThink of having such a wonderful imagination that what you
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draw can come true. ?áI love the language and the vocabulary, too. ?áSaturnalia, enticing, medieval, etc. are just some of the real words introduced. ?áThen there are Amy's made up words, for example when she wants to mean both vanquished and banished, she naturally comes up with banquished."

There's a school for witches, and a mermaid, and a spelling bumblebee named Malachi, a loyal friend named Clarissa, Old Witch whose favorite food is rabbits, the Easter rabbits who play a trick on her... lots of gentle excitement and some giggles, too. ?áInterestingly, besides Malachi, there's only one male character, and he has only one short bit. ?áThis is not much at all like the stories by Estes about the Moffats and the Pyes; it's just as wonderful in a whole different way."
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LibraryThing member harrietbrown
This was one of my favorite books when I was a child. It's a delightful story about Little Witch and her family living on the Glass Mountain.




(71 ratings; 4.2)
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