The Witches by Roald Dahl.
I was a big reader as a kid. But you know, I've come to the conclusion that I must have read a lot of crap. I'm only half kidding there. While I really did read all the time, I honestly remember very little of what I read. Now on the one hand, the books I read really weren't crap, after all, they certainly set up a lifelong love of reading. But on the other hand, I find it utterly amazing how few of the children's classics I've actually read. Take Roald Dahl...The Witches is my very first venture into his world. But you know, instead of regret, I think I'll take the attitude of joyful anticipation in knowing there's so many more wonderful books out there for me to discover.
The Witches hooked us (Gray, Max, and I) from page one:
In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks.
But this is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES.
The most important thing you should know about REAL WITCHES is this. Listen very carefully. Never forget what is coming next.
REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ORDINARY JOBS.
That is why they are so hard to catch.
A REAL WITCH hates children with a red-hot sizzling hatred that is more sizzling and red-hot than any hatred you could possibly imagine.
Can't you just tell that it's going to be a delightfully thrilling book just from that opening?!!
It is the story of a boy, who comes to live with his beloved Grandmamma in Norway after his parents are killed. His grandmother is an expert on witches, and she begins teaching her grandson about the precautions he should be taking. For one thing, while, as we learn in the passage above, witches look like ordinary women, there are clues that one can look out for. For example, witches always wear gloves because their fingernails aren't of the human variety, but are more like animal claws. Secondly, witches wear wigs, because they are all actually bald.
Witches, by the way, live all around the world in every country. They form a sort of organization, headed by the Grand High Witch. She travels the world, attending a sort of witches' convention which is held in each country, each year.
Now the boy and his grandmother are forced to move back to England because of a stipulation in his parents' will. After the boy finishes up the school year, they plan to spend the summer holiday in Norway. But the grandmother suffers a slight illness, and her doctor insists she vacation closer to home. And this is how they end up at the Hotel Magnificent at the very same time as the witches' meeting in England.
One day, the boy finds himself accidentally locked in a huge meeting room at the hotel with a bunch of women from The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Of course, these women aren't who they say they were. In fact, they aren't really women at all. Every witch from England is in this meeting hall. And the boy overhears their diabolical plan for ridding England of its children once and for all...
I honestly can't tell you how much I enjoyed this book. It was a pure delight, but definitely not a delight of the sugar-coated variety. In fact, at the start I worried just a wee bit that it might be slightly too scary for the boys. But it wasn't. No, they loved every word of it! In fact, this is the very first chapter book that I've read to them that Max actually stuck with for each and every page. While he loves for us to read him shorter books, he tends to get bored with the couple chapters a night routine of a longer book. Not this time, let me tell you...he exclaimed that it was his favorite book ever! (Shocking, considering it wasn't even about cats.)