What if you were the worst at an assignment? Would your friends stick by you? How would your enemies react? What if you were part of a group presentation for an important person? Could you handle the pressure? These are some of the dilemmas faced by Mildred Hubble in a delightful book called The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy.
Mildred is clumsy, but it's her failure at riding a broom and performing spells that land her into the most trouble at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches. One day, Mildred and her best friend Maud are creating a laughter potion. All is going well until Mildred incorrectly remembers that the potion should be green and needs pondweed. When the two girls drink their potion, instead of laughing like the rest of their classmates, their heads disappear. This fiasco lands them in the office of the headmistress, a place Mildred seems all too familar with.
Will friend Maud stick by Mildred through this new disaster? Will their enemy Ethel forgive Maud's mistakes when they affect her? Perhaps more dire, can Mildred handle the pressure of performing a broomstick formation with her classmates when the chief magician visits? To find out, check out this episodic and charming book.
The book has a couple huge strengths. Jill Murphy immerses readers completely into the culture of a young witch at an academy with her references to: bats and owls, black clothes and black cats, pointed hats and broomsticks, potion laboratories and cauldrons, and spells and charms. I also adore Murphy's conversational style. I feel as if she is sitting in a family chair or a teacher desk and surrounded by children when she uses phrases like: "so that if you glanced up the mountain you probably would not notice the building at all"; ""not that there was anywhere to go if you were allowed to go out"; "To tell you the truth...."; and ""Do you remember....?"
The book also has a few flaws. Mildred Hubble seems like a rather old-fashioned and unsuitable name for a young heroine, even one who is a witch. The point of view switched once inexplicably from Mildred to Ethel. There's also the matter of Ethel's cat. The school runs out of black ones and so Mildred ends up with a gray one. Moreover, because of it's unexpected color, Mildred doesn't know what to name it, although by the end of the book she might have decided upon Tabby. With all the fuss about the cat, you'd think it would play a large role in Mildred's life but it doesn't. And with all the fuss about its name, you'd think it would end up with a fancier one. Last, around the middle of the book, Mildred decides to runaway. Why she returns and what happens upon her return seems somewhat simplistic, but then this is a book for younger readers and of only one hundred pages.
The Worst Witch is a quick and funny read. The book proved so popular it inspired a television show that ran for four years and inspired two spin-offs. The book is also the first in a series, of which four hundred million copies have been sold. What an amazing success story for an author who started writing this book at age fifteen, but a deserved one for the book is realistic to school experiences of anyone and an enjoyable read.