Witch For a Week
By Kaye Umanski
Published by Simon and Schuster
ISBN 978 1 4711 6090 5
Book titles don’t come any more self-explanatory than this. No prizes for guessing the story the witty and funny Kaye Umansky is going to tell in her latest spellbinding novel. The only questions are: who is going to be a witch for a week? And what will this week of witchery involve?
Elsie Pickles lives in Smallbridge, a dull, little town where people go to bed early because there is nothing else to do at night. And in Smallbridge, there is nothing much to do during the day either. Elsie works in the family shop, the grandly named Pickles’ Emporium, a convenience store that sells convenient things like buckets, tea strainers and candles.
The shop doesn’t get many customers, and by the end of the week they’ve made barely enough money to buy food to put on the family table. But Elsie doesn’t complain. And when a customer does come into the Emporium, she is friendly, polite and helpful, always following the 10 rules of Good Customer Service that her father has drawn up.
One sunny Saturday morning that suddenly turns very stormy, the shop doorbell rings, and the local witch Magenta Sharp storms into Pickles’ Emporium! She is looking for a temporary caretaker to look after her home in Crookfinger Forest for a week whilst she visits her sister.
The witch is brandishing an advert to pin of the shop’s notice board, but rips this up when she instantly decides that Elsie would fill the vacancy perfectly. And there would be excellent pay for the week’s work. Elsie has no choice but to accept.
Witch For a Week is a quick read, fizzing with fun and magic. There isn’t a lot of plot, but there is a lot of character, spells and nonsense. Umansky is an expert at drawing eccentric characters in just a few clever sentences, and the small cast of weirdos that Elsie meets in Crookfinger Forest are a gang of oddities that readers will love.
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A bad-tempered raven, a pair of elderly identical twins, a handsome, empty-headed woodcutter, a smelly but utterly faithful dog, and a large girl called Aggie who wants to be a wood nymph are among the bothersome neighbours who come knocking on the door of the witch’s tower when Elsie takes up residence.
Umansky keeps her cast small, and the plot involving the brewing up of a love potion to make the woodcutter fall for Aggie is pure farce. Elsie is a selfless and thoughtful central character, and never loses her cool even as her patience is sorely tried. Will it all end in magical disaster? Of course it will, and that is all part of the fun.
Umansky has been delighting young readers for more than 30 years, and her much-loved Pongwiffy stories are read all over the world. Fun, eccentric and full of wonderful characters, Witch For a Week has all the ingredients of a bestseller. Here’s hoping that there will be more entertaining adventures of Elsie P and the Red Witch, Magenta Sharp soon before the magic has chance to fade.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org