Sunday, July 31, 2022

Worst Witch 6, 7 & 8

The Worst Witch to the Rescue
by Jill Murphy
Recommended Ages: 10+

Despite having been put down as the worst witch at Miss Cackle's School for Witches since she began, Mildred Hubble arrives in an upbeat mood for the summer term of her third year. For one thing, she has come up with a really creative spell for her holiday project, which she knows will impress her often exasperated form-mistress, Miss Hardbroom. For another thing, she discovers a real aptitude for art, giving her hope of not always being the worst student in every subject. But it doesn't even take her nemesis, Ethel Hallow, until lunch on the first day of term to ruin both happy prospects for Mildred, thanks to a couple of mean-spirited tricks (one of which actually crosses the line into cheating) that will obliterate any hope you may still cherish that the two girls will ever grow into friends.

Add the fact that Ethel's sneaking friend, Drusilla, discovers that Mildred is secretly harboring an illegal pet in her dorm room, and the stage is set for a heartbreaking term for Mildred – and that's if she doesn't get expelled. Thank goodness for a temporarily talking toad, knocking on Mildred's door at just the right time. Otherwise, things might not go well for a certain tortoise up a tree, and Mildred may lose her chance to get a fair shake.

This is the sixth of eight "Worst Witch" stories written and illustrated by the late Jill Murphy. For those who are struggling to tell one book from another in the series, this is the one where Ethel starts to get a little of what she deserves, and perhaps a turning point in Mildred's progress from "worst witch" to a student even Miss Hardbroom might someday be proud of. If there's hope for her, there may be hope as well for any kid who struggles in school. And it couldn't happen to a more warm-hearted and courageous little witch.

The Worst Witch and the Wishing Star
by Jill Murphy
Recommended Ages: 10+

During her fourth year at Miss Cackle's School for Witches, the teachers give "worst witch" Mildred some new responsibility, perhaps in the hope of maturing her a little. And they've got to admit, she takes her duties as East Wing Lantern Monitor very seriously. But one night during her rounds, she rescues a dog and begins hiding him in her room as yet another forbidden, secret pet. Star, as she names him, even proves to be a better broom balancer than Mildred's adorable but useless cat, Tabby. The pair secretly begin practicing aerial acrobatics, with an excellent effect on Mildred's slow-to-develop flying skills.

If you're wondering what could ruin it, you must be new to the series because, of course, the answer is Ethel Hallow, Mildred's nemesis – a horrible, snobby, entitled, jealous sneak of a girl who could give witches a bad name. Incapable of leaving Mildred alone to enjoy anything or do well in any subject, Ethel smokes out Mildred's doggy secret and interferes in her lantern monitoring in a way that just happens to sink the school's chances of winning a talent contest against other magic schools, for which the prize is a new swimming pool. Now half the school hates Mildred because they blame her for ruining their act, and the other half hopes she'll win the contest for them with her last-minute dog-and-broomstick show.

This is the seventh of the eight "Worst Witch" chapter books by the late Jill Murphy. So by now, it shouldn't be spoiling anything to point out that she wouldn't be Mildred if she didn't somehow turn disaster into triumph and worst-witchdom into heroism. With a gentle spirit, a streak of mischief, and a firm grasp of the difference between right and wrong, she's the kind of underdog (no pun intended) many kids will sympathize with and root for.

First Prize for the Worst Witch
by Jill Murphy
Recommended Ages: 10+

Mildred Hubble, the worst witch at Miss Cackle's School for Witches, has somehow made it to the summer term of Year Four, the year during which first prizes are awarded and the head girl is named because Year Five is all about studying for the Witches' Higher Certificate exams. Between Mildred and her best friends, Maud and Enid, only one of them hopes to win anything at the end of the term – Maud is hoping for a first prize in Team Spirit – but everyone knows all the serious prizes will go to Mildred's nemesis, Ethel Hallow. And also, there's never been a Hallow at the school who didn't end up as head girl. Mildred's just hoping to continue flying with her acrobatic dog, Star, and work hard to prove that she isn't always the worst witch.

Hardly surprising, if you've followed the series so far, Ethel isn't content to let Mildred have even that. She and her toadie, Drusilla, arrange to have Star's previous owners – Mr. and Mrs. Brilliantine, who run a small circus – show up at the school to claim their dog. It's an entertaining scene in which you might realize that no one from the non-magical world has appeared in the series till now. Of course it wrecks Mildred, emotionally and academically, to have Star taken away from her. But slowly, she and Enid and Maud concoct a scheme to get Star back – a scheme that incidentally involves a couple other circus animals, some zany enchanted objects and a transportation spell that goes hilariously wrong. Will they succeed or will the whole caper end in disaster? Don't just guess. Grab the book, or better yet, the box set.

This book represents the end of an eight-book, 44-year project by Jill Murphy, a British children's author and illustrator who passed away in 2021. Perhaps sadly, it leaves to our imagination what Mildred Hubble would have gotten up to during her final year at Miss Cackle's School for Witches. But seeing the "worst witch" named Head Girl going into that last year also brings the series to a pretty satisfying conclusion. It's nice how things like that work out sometimes.

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