Thursday 22 November 2018

Lucy Newton, Little Witch

Lucy Newton, Little Witch by Phoebe McArthur (Christmas Press) PB RRP $13.99 ISBN: 9780648194507

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What’s a young witch to do, with her mother out of the house (again) and her favourite doll in danger of losing an arm? Despite a ban on using magic (established due to Lucy’s apparent penchant for dangerous escapades), Lucy Newton can’t stop herself. She breaks into her mother’s study to find her spell book, looking for a simple spell to reattach her beloved doll’s appendage.

Predictably, things go south quickly and in increasingly outrageous ways, as Lucy soon finds herself facing a rapidly-growing slime-drooling slug – with no idea what to do next. Enter two wonderfully crafted secondary characters, the sentient spell book – which suddenly starts offering advice – and the neighbour’s sassy black cat. While the protagonist Lucy does little more than bounce from bungling to helpless to panic-stricken and back again, the book and cat give humour, spark and attitude to the story.

McArthur builds suspense effectively. The story kept my 4-year-old assistant book-reviewer on the edge of her bed, terrified for poor Lucy facing the revolting slug. The plot is fast-moving and fun, and will entertain the target audience of 6 to 9 year olds. While elements of the story orient towards girls, with a female protagonist and a dismembered doll creating the initial crisis, boys should get right into the chaos, slime and destruction as well.

Newly independent readers will enjoy the numerous black-and-white illustrations, line drawn by McArthur. The pictures pick up the significant elements in the story in charming vignettes. While there is a detailed and expressive illustration of the cranky old witch-next-door, some of the illustrations of Lucy lack a strong sense of character.

This is a fast-paced fantasy from first-time author McArthur, which will appeal to young readers who enjoy a little magic or a lot of mess.

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