Saturday 17 February 2018

Witchfairy by Brigitte Minne and Carl Cneut   {Reviewed by STELLA}
When you want to fall into a picture and enter the world of a character without even reading a word, you know that you have been beguiled by some very luscious images. From the moment you pick up this book, you will be entranced. The cover and title invite you in, although with some caution as you contemplate the blue-black woods and the word witch. But there is also the word fairy with its dream-like airy qualities and a rich floral carpet which a child, cherub-faced and determined, roller-skates through. She’s heading towards the edge of the book cover. Yet more temptation: follow her and open the book. In the first paragraph we are introduced to Rosemary, a fairy, who has received a wand for her birthday, something all darling fairy children want, but not Rosemary, who is most put out. When you want roller-skates, a stupid magic wand is a disappointment. Her mother wants her to be like the other fairy children, who clutch their special toys, wands and handbags; who have the bows nicely tied in their hair, their pretty hats and frocks just so. They are sweet and have little tea-parties and tête-à-têtes just so. “They ate their cake without making crumbs. They drank tea without spilling a drop...They told only the sweetest stories with their honeyed voices.” Rosemary’s mother says no to roller-skates, worried about falls and nosebleeds, and the disgrace of the being a fairy whose hat might be askew or dress dirtied. Rosemary declares, much to her mother’s horror, “I want to be a witch”. And no one can persuade her to change her mind. Exasperated, her mother declares that witches cannot live in golden turrets - they live in the wood, so Rosemary packs her bags and flies away. Her mother knows she’ll be back soon. The witch’s wood is gloriously dark compared with the pink, red and white pages of the fairy castles. Yet it is the perfect place for Rosemary. She builds a treehouse and a boat and forages for berries and nuts. She explores the forest, which has wonderful carpets of flowers, all in hues of red - a red which has become a signature colour for the illustrator and is commonly called ‘Cneut-red’. She meets the witches, who are delightfully drawn with angled faces, grey hair and long pointed noses in contrast to the fairies who have rosy cheeks and small pert noses. We first see the witches poking their heads out of the river watching Rosemary. Are they dangerous? Author and illustrator make us wait a few pages to find out the true nature of the witches. They are kind and generous, reminiscent of kindly aunts and grandmothers, welcoming and encouraging Rosemary. They give her roller-skates and teach her how to ride a broom. Life in the woods is good and Rosemary is having a ball. Minne deftly uses words. You can almost hear Rosemary stamp her foot in defiance, even though this is never described. You can feel Rosemary’s wistful wantings even though these are not explicitly said. Minne’s skill as a writer, combined with Cneut’s illustrations, his ability to render facial emotions and to use colour, the warm reds and the cold blue-blacks to intensify those emotions and the tension inherent between Rosemary’s two worlds, will make Witchfairy a new favourite for many. Yet is the content that takes it that next layer deeper. Witchfairy tells the story of a girl who feels out of place, who doesn’t want to be what she was born to. The world of golden turrets isn’t for her - she wants to run and chase the wind, to get grubby and play a few tricks. Being a witch is a fine thing, but Rosemary wistfully looks up at the moon and wonders about her other life. And Rosemary’s mother misses her so much, she decides to visit her. They find out together who Rosemary is: neither fairy nor witch but a combination of both, a witchfairy. This is a charming adventure about a curious young child and her desire to be herself, as well as a mother’s acceptance and love of her child in whatever guise that takes. 


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