Yes, it’s a special year for a famous lady who’s been around, comparatively, for a while. She’s keen on parties and celebrations and has a way of making other lives feel a bit brighter. Many children recognise her face and would love to meet her.
I’m talking about the famous Winnie the Witch, who is 25 this year.
Winnie is the star of a very popular picture book for young children, illustrated in exuberant style by illustrator Korky Paul. Some might say that her put-upon cat Wilbur is just as much an eternal hero. The big Winnie picture books are often found in libraries and schools and homes.
However, having smaller people around me again, I came across a paperback series about Winnie, all written by Laura Owen. Keen to investigate this newer incarnation, I bought “Winnie Goes Batty” (2008) and “Mini Winnie” (2010) both published by OUP at £4.99
I was not disappointed. If you are used to long fiction for middle grade readers and upwards, these four-story books might seem very slight, but they felt perfect for the six to seven or even eight year old reader who needs a bright interesting story quickly and boldly told.
Winnie is a wacky modern miss, an eternal optimist whose attempts are often thwarted by accidents, events or her own kind-heartedness. The story concepts are clear to the young reader.
In “Winnie Goes Batty”, the exuberant witch attempts to be a tightrope walker, to cope with a snoring cat, to dig for old treasure for a museum and to impress her aunt with a bat feast.
“Minnie Winnie” brings a visit from a bossy aunt, becoming a school cleaner for a day, a tv poetry competition and a shrinking. All involve immediate disaster and all end happily.
The books bring a pleasure beyond the plots. The pages often offer opportunities to make odd noises, while Winnie’s choice of diet brings a shivery touch of Dahlese gruesomeness that children, especially boys, would wallow in.
I liked the subtle cleverness within the writing. This is a writer who enjoys fun with words for their own sake. Here’s a short example:
Glug-glug-slurp. “Nice fizzy froggle-pop!” said Winnie. “The trouble is that it blooming well bubbles up like frogspawn when I dance.” Burp!
Scrunch-munch-gulp. “ Meeew”, nodded Wilbur, scoffing crispy mouse tails as he waggled his hips and bopped along to the very loud Hobgoblins of Sound booming from Winnie’s MP13 player.
It was a good party, even if it was just for the two of them.
I felt these are very much books to read along with a child, letting them join in with the sounds as well as being books that would help an uncertain young reader gain confidence while they have fun on the wacky adventures.
The books are illiustrated in black and white. However, these are not ordinary illustrations. These are illustrations by the very man who, visually, created Winnie the Witch all those years ago.
The popular illustrator and cartoonist Korky Paul has filled the pages with images of his Winnie, almost as if each story could be a picture book of its own. Winnie - and her adventures - almost jump out of the pages at you, making these books feel “louder” and much more involving than many books with small drawings aimed at this age.
I really liked the way that the pictures are definitely “drawings”, too: energetic, involving, and just untidy. enough to seem as if they are saying “Children, you can draw too. All you need is a pen or pencil!" Even the page numbers have their own little beastie drawn around them.
Having read these tales, I'd say that the lively Winnie, 25 years old in July, seems unwilling to grow up, older or any wiser at all. That must be her own particular magic.
Happy Birthday, Winnie, and Party On!
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