Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Worst Witch 2 & 3

The Worst Witch Strikes Again
by Jill Murphy
Recommended Ages: 10+

In her second term at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches, Mildred continues to lag behind her classmates – especially under the withering eye of their form mistress, Miss Hardbroom. Partly this is due to bad luck; partly, Mildred's irrepressible high spirits; and partly because she somehow manages to catch the blame whenever another student causes a bit of mischief. With a new student named Enid making enough trouble for two, Mildred is soon on the verge of being expelled.

In the light strokes of a short, quick-to-read novella and the strangely attractive imagery of a school of magic being held in a castle (an idea somebody should really do something with one of these days), Mildred's adventure shines a sympathetic light on the plight of every student who has ever had trouble concentrating in class, or who couldn't help getting into trouble despite good intentions, or who had a warm heart toward the down-and-out (including awkward new classmates and dimwitted kittens), and yet who also wanted to smack the tale-bearing teacher's pet. If you resemble that remark, this one's for you.

This is the second of eight "Worst Witch" books written from 1974 to 2018. British children's author Jill Murphy passed away in August 2021, about a year after I read the first installment in this series, The Worst Witch. I've taken my time getting around to reading this series, which has been going nearly as long as I have and has already spawned a TV movie and several TV series. Anyway, the other slim, adorably illustrated books in this series – of which I now own a boxed set – include A Bad Spell for the Worst Witch, The Worst Witch All at Sea, The Worst Witch Saves the Day, The Worst Witch to the Rescue, The Worst Witch and the Wishing Star and First Prize for the Worst Witch. Murphy also left behind 11 "Large Family" books, the novels Geoffrey Strangeways, Worlds Apart and Dear Hound, and multiple picture books for children.

A Bad Spell for the Worst Witch
by Jill Murphy
Recommended Ages: 10+

Despite being the worst witch at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches, Mildred has made it to the second form. Unfortunately, so has her former first-form mistress, the repressive Miss Hardbroom. This year, a feud with her snooty nemesis, Ethel, results (much later) in Mildred being able to say the priceless words, "We were frogs together." In the meantime, she has a hard time communicating her plight to her friends Enid and Maud, so that she can get switched back. And then she has a bigger problem: how to keep a promise to a wizard who has been trapped in froggy form for decades.

It's another slim, charmingly illustrated breeze to read that should please even – or maybe especially – kids who sometimes have trouble keeping up in class, or staying out of trouble, or getting along with their classmates. Mildred has a streak of mischief in her, which she sometimes can't control. You may likewise have trouble controlling an urge to giggle as she makes up a scary story instead of comforting a first-year student as she intended. But there's also much to admire in her, such as her tenderness toward the powerless and vulnerable, her sincere effort to show good manners (like when she politely declines an offer of a fly), and the lengths she'll go to in keeping a promise. (However, kidnapping is bad, children. It should go without saying.)

This is the third book of eight in the "Worst Witch" series, between The Worst Witch Strikes Again and The Worst Witch All at Sea. A prolific, British children's author whose works have often been adapted for television, Jill Murphy passed away in 2021.

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