Book Review: Only a Witch Can Fly
Call it lyrical, call it rhythmic â€“ few things can split a picture book crowd like poetic text.
Where do you stand?
Some see it as a perfect way to expose young readers to the beauty and flexibility of language, while others see it as (in some cases) ignoring childrenâ€™s sensibilities in an attempt to appeal to critics and parents (who, after all, are the ones purchasing the book). While I tend to side with the former, I have to admit that occasionally, poetic text can be a barrier to entry for beginning readers. That may be the case with Only a Witch Can Fly, and it’s too bad â€“ the artwork is fantastic. A simple story with just enough of a poetic complexity to keep the debate going.
In this Halloween-themed story, the action begins after the trick-or-treating is over. After changing out of her witch costume and heading to bed, a dark haired girl is struck by an urge â€“ to see if she can fly as real witches do. Grabbing her broomstick and heading outside with little brother and black cat following, the girl tries her luck. After a stumble, and some encouragement from her brother, the witch-in-training gets it right, flying into the night sky and leaving her father gaping at the window.
McGhee utilizes a 12th century French poetic form known as sestina to tell the story. The results may be too abstract for some youngsters to tackle by themselves. While repetition is present (a good thing for kids), there are elegant flourishes that may be lost on some.
Taeeun Yoo’s beautiful linoleum block print illustrations make the story accessible. I challenge you to find these images as anything less than amazing. In a way, block print is the opposite of drawing. Where artists usually draw lines first and fill them in, block prints color things in and leave the lines invisible. Yoo works with green, orange, brown, and black, to create spread after spread of memorable images.
While Only a Witch Can Fly has a poetic essence that may split audiences, the story still comes through thanks to beautiful artwork.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
Filed under: Reviews
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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