Thursday, July 28, 2022

Worst Witch 4 & 5

The Worst Witch All at Sea
by Jill Murphy
Recommended Ages: 10+

During her previous term at Miss Cackle's School for Witches, second-form mischief-maker Mildred managed to save a magician from a hopless, I mean hopeless, froggy fate. As a reward for her heroism, Mr. Rowan-Webb has invited the entire second form to a seaside vacation at his attractively named Gloom Castle on Grim Cove.

It might be more of a treat for Mildred if she didn't have a secret to keep. Her beloved, but half-baked, cat Tabby has been traded in for a more traditional black model, who is better at balancing on broomsticks, while Tabby has been demoted to a kitchen mouser despite being afraid of mice. He's such a useless cat, but Mildred loves him and it breaks her heart to be separated from him, so she sneaks him along on the seaside holiday and, naturally, hijinks ensue.

The hijinks involve class sneak Ethel, their ever disapproving form-mistress Miss Hardbroom, a boat, an island rumored to have a buried treasure on it, and the amazing sport of broomstick water skiing that'll leave you wondering why they never mentioned it at Hogwarts. And of course, despite being well known as a poor student and troublemaker, it's Mildred whose warm heart and resourcefulness save the day.

This is the fourth of eight "Worst Witch" books by the late Jill Murphy, a British children's author also known for her "Large Family" series of picture books. It is also published in the U.S. as The Worst Witch At Sea (with no "All"), apparently based on the assumption that American children won't understand the British expression "all at sea" (which means "in a state of confusion or uncertainty"). The copy that came with my box set has the "All" on it; however, that may be related to the fact that the price listed on the back cover is in pounds.

The Worst Witch Saves the Day
by Jill Murphy
Recommended Ages: 10+

Of course Mildred, the worst witch at Miss Cackle's School for Witches, saves the day. Doesn't she always? But first, and just as naturally, she messes up. Her botched attempt to repair a "bad hair day" results in disaster, and sends her beloved but mental cat Tabby into a nervous breakdown. At least this term, the girls in Form Three will have a break from always having super-strict Miss Hardbroom as their form-mistress. The trouble is, their mysterious new teacher doesn't seem interested in actually teaching.

It doesn't take long for the girls in Form Three to miss a bit of structure and discipline. But that thought has scarcely formed in their minds when Miss Granite suddenly turns mean and threatening, and poor Tabby gets caught in the middle. Luckily, Mildred isn't the kind of girl to take catnapping lying down. (That sentence somehow doesn't sound right.) Unluckily, that's exactly what Miss Granite is counting on, forcing Mildred to stretch her spellcasting skills in order to avert yet another attempted hag takeover of the school.

Mildred and her friends, frenemies and enemies are fun company as always, full of warmth and mischief and magic. Their adventure is typically weird, hilarious and just a bit spooky, including (in this case) a transformation spell that leaves Mildred in a tiny form. Her struggle to communicate her plight with her friends, Enid and Maud, and to stay on task despite the allure of cake crumbs all over the floor, is the type of verbal and visual fun that makes this book, and this whole series, priceless.

This is the fifth of eight "Worst Witch" books by the late Jill Murphy. Next after it is The Worst Witch to the Rescue. After a slow start, I'm zipping through the series thanks to a box set that was apparently printed for sale in the U.K. Since the books are so brief and quick to read – and there are (sadly) no worries that more installments will be added to the series – I'd say the box set is the way to go.

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