Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bewitching October Reads: Only A Witch Can Fly

Fall is here! The weather has turned cool, the leaves are changing color, the Cardinals are in the World Series (yay!) and I'm in the mood for Halloween stories.

Only A Witch Can Fly by Alison McGhee is the charming tale of a "young witch who had not yet flown". The linoleum block print illustrations by Taeeun Yoo have a lovely, retro feel. They are wonderfully evocative, summoning up memories of old houses and chilly autumn nights.

The pictures and the story work together, each contributing to the overall effect. The pictures are beautiful, but a few of them don't mesh with the words. When the text says, "would you too begin to cry..." I expected to see the little girl crying, but instead she looked startled. Similarly, "cat arches his back and croons ...." made me wonder why the cat in the picture wasn't arching his back. A small child might need a picture clue to know what that means.

The book is written as a sestina, a form of poetry that originated with the French troubadours in the 12th century. The unusual rhythm took a little getting used to, but once I had reread it a few times, it got inside my head, and I enjoyed the internal rhymes, near-rhymes, and repetition. This is the kind of book you could read more than once to a child with good receptive language skills. A fidgety, ADHD-type kid might not have the patience to sit still for it. It's probably not a book most children would read alone, as the sentence structure is rather complex.

Another unusual thing about Only A Witch Can Fly is that the whole story is told in the second person subjunctive: If you were a young witch...

 When the young witch flies at last, it is oddly moving: "And you? You have flown ... you have flown!"

 I really enjoyed this picture book. The author, Alison McGhee, is a New York Times-bestselling author. Her novel Shadow Baby is on my to-be-read list.

Note: I found out about this book through the wonderful writers in the PB Book Club at AbsoluteWrite.


Victoria Doe said...

Thanks for the thorough review! I would like to read this book myself- I'm especially interested in the illustrations.

Ruth Donnelly said...

Thanks for reading, Victoria! The illustrations are awesome.