Monday, September 16, 2013

What the Witch Left by Ruth Chew

One boring rainy afternoon, Katy and her friend Louise are hanging out in Katy's bedroom when Louise becomes curious about what is in the chest of drawers stored there.  The first three drawers yielded not really interesting, but the bottom, fourth drawer was locked and Katy, as explained to Louise, she was not allowed to open it.  The things in the bottom drawer belong to her mother's Aunt Martha, whom Katy has never met.  But, curiosity gets the best of the girls, and off they go off to fetch the key.

Inside they find a bunch of ordinary looking items - a mirror, a bathrobe, an old dented metal box with a fruitcake painted on it, a pair of boots and some flesh colored gloves.   But are they really ordinary?

When Katy put the gloves on, she notices that, oddly enough, she couldn't see them on her hands.  But before she had time to take them off and put them back in the draw, her piano teacher arrives.  Still wearing the gloves, Katy's piano playing goes better than usual, even her teacher is impressed.  Later, when Katy isn't wearing the gloves, her piano playing was just a bad as ever.  Likewise, without the gloves, Louise is just a girl who draws well, but when she wears the gloves, she becomes a masterful artist.

Concluding that the items in the drawer are truly magical, the best friends continue to be drawn to it, especially when they start getting perfect spelling tests while wearing the gloves.  All that sounds pretty good, but. needless to say, soon the gloves lead to all kinds of school problems for the girls, including pandemonium in the auditorium when Louse wears the bathrobe in a school play and all you can see of here is her head floating through the air.

Over Thanksgiving break, Katy and Louise decide to try out the boots.  Called Seven League Boots, the girls calculate that each step in these boots equals 21 miles.  So the girls decide to so south where it is warm for a day of swimming.  And sure enough, in no time they find themselves in Mexico, meeting a young girl named Pilar and her donkey.  Pilar and her grandmother weave place mats to sell in the market to tourists.  Wearing the magic gloves, Katy and Louise spend part of their day helping her weave her mats, and because Louise's artistic talents are enhanced by the gloves, she makes mats with an unusual design to them.

But when the girls return home to Brooklyn, they discover the gloves are missing and they must return to Mexico the next day.  They find the gloves and teach Pilar how to do the new place mat design, which have been a hit in the marketplace.

The girls have lots of adventures with the items in the bottom draw, until...well, you'll just have to read the book to find out.

I loved this slow-paced, magical story.  But, how could I not love a book that not only takes place in Brooklyn, but near Church Avenue, my old stomping ground.   I do, however, think What the Witch Left is a nice companion chapter book for kids who are just starting to get into Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series.   And, in a day and age when kids can't wait to read books like Harry Potter, it is a perfect introduction to books about magical worlds and fantasy and to spark the imaginations of young readers and prepare the way for the kind of magical world Harry lives in.

The story is well-written, and there are no real scary bits in it.  I did find that What the Witch Left held up very well over time, although I don't think children go out to play without supervision any more quite the way that they do in this book.  Given that the book was published about 40 years ago, it might be a nice book to read with a parent or grandparent who has fond memories of reading it when they were young.

One nice thing worth mentioning: the dustcover illustration has been redone for this new edition, but underneath the DJ is the original illustration from the 1973 edition of What the Witch Left, seen here

This book is recommended for readers age 7-10
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. Can't wait to read this one with my granddaughters when they get older. Maybe I will cheat and read it myself first!

  2. I used to have a whole collection of Ruth Chew paperbacks but gave them to a friend. Adored these, even though I was never a huge fantasy reader. Great minds!

  3. That was a fascinating account, thank you for sharing it on the Kid LIt Blog Hop. It reminded me of something I read or heard in my youth (since Tubby the Tuba then infiltrated my brain) but I wonder, given it is an old book, whether I did read it then. Who knows?!

  4. Sounds like a perfect book for my daughter. Thank you for sharing your review.

  5. This sounds like a fun book - always a good lesson to find "magical" help can cause more trouble than your own natural talents. Thanks for the review!

  6. What a great recommendation! I am SURE that my daughter would love this book - it's right up her alley! I'm pinning it to my Books for Tween Girls board. Thanks so much for joining us in the Kid Lit Blog Hop Alex!

  7. What a wonderful story. I must remember to look for this at the library. Thanks for suggesting on Kid Lit Blog Hop!
    -Reshama Stackingbooks


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