Picture Book Snob
This book will cast a spell on you
Witch in Training by Michelle Robinson and Briony May Smith, Walker Books
What's it about? A young witch called Betty is learning how to make potions but must source lots of exotic ingredients first. Betty and her mum travel by broomstick in search of rare items, taking their kitten Pumpkin Patch and intrigued little readers along to join the fun.
What can we learn?
There's nothing that can't be fixed, so there's no need to panic when mistakes are made. Although it's important not to sneeze when making potions, it's not the end of the world when it happens!
What makes this stand out? Betty is a brilliant character and so determined to succeed. She looks alternately horrified and nervous when is collecting some of the more repulsive and difficult-to-obtain items on the list, but she never complains. I love how patient and supportive Betty's mother is - even when Betty makes mistakes, she remains calm and encouraging. Michelle Robinson has impeccable comic timing and her rhyming is masterful as always, while Briony May Smith's illustrations are absolutely stunning.
About those illustrations... They're gorgeous: extremely atmospheric, animated, and intricate. I love the autumnal tones of the scenes set in and around the witches' home. There are so many delightful, amusing and interesting details that make the story even more magical. These include witch-themed weather vanes, stormy skies pierced by forks of lightning, tiny ghosts emerging through walls, and a vampire's fluffy slippers.
The facial expressions and body language of the characters are brilliant. Betty is hilarious when gathering some less desirable ingredients and I love the troll that peers from a window in one scene. He looks just like a grumpy, nosy neighbour investigating what sounds like a disturbance in his yard. Betty's mum and pet rat appear suitably alarmed during a sneezing incident, and the jolting tea-cups and tumbling jars make this scene even livelier. Pumpkin Patch is adorable and I love how cosy Betty's room is, with its tiny fairy lights and paraffin lamp radiating golden light.
There's something so comforting about Briony's artwork that's incredibly appealing and difficult to describe adequately, but if you look at her illustrations, you'll know what I mean. There's a soft but powerful glow to them and they somehow manage to conjure up all the warmest feelings and favourite stories from my own childhood.
Why we love it... Well, we knew we would love this book before we even got hold of it as it's by two of our favourite children's book creators. We're HUGE fans of both Michelle Robinson and Bryony May Smith. We're mad about their previous collaboration, Tooth Fairy in Training, and we're delighted to see its protagonists Tate and her sister May make a cameo in this story. Just like Tooth Fairy in Training, Witch in Training features strong and fearless female characters and takes readers on an exciting, amusing and enchanting journey.
Why you need it... This charming story is certain to cast a spell on little readers, and even though it's wonderfully witchy, it's definitely not just for Halloween.
About the author:
Michelle Robinson is a prolific author who wrote her first story at the age of five, has published more than 40 children's books and won lots of awards. Michelle Robinson always wanted to be an author like her hero Roald Dahl, but all they had in common was the same birthday and a love of chocolate. We also have Tooth Fairy in Training, She Rex, The World Made a Rainbow, How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth, A Beginner's Guide to Bearspotting, Do Not Disturb the Dragons and Do Not Mess with the Mermaids and love them all. You can see more of Michelle's work on her website.
About the illustrator: Briony May Smith studied Illustration at Falmouth University and was Highly Commended for the Macmillan Children’s book prize in 2013 and 2014. Briony’s work is inspired by fairy tales, folklore and life in the country. Briony has illustrated a number of acclaimed and popular picture books. We love Tooth Fairy in Training by Michelle Robinson, Stardust by Jeanne Willis, and Margaret's Unicorn which Briony wrote as well as illustrated, is one of our all-time favourites. Her first self-penned book was Imelda and the Goblin King, and you can find more of her work on her website. Witch in Training was published by Walker on 16th September 2021 - see this book on the publisher's website
Read our review Do Not Mess with the Mermaids by Michelle Robinson and Sharon Davey
Read our review of Do Not Disturb the Dragons by Michelle Robinson and Sharon Davey
Read our review of She Rex by Michelle Robinson and Deborah Allwright
Read our review of The World Made a Rainbow by Michelle Robinson and Emily Hamilton
Read our review of Margaret's Unicorn by Briony May Smith
Read our review of Stardust by Jeanne Willis and Briony May Smith