The Witches is a classic Roald Dahl novel with an over the top plot that will probably make most parents cringe. It felt at first like a story that the grandma was telling that just got out of control—except it all turns out to be true!
Witches are out to kill or otherwise get rid of all the children in England, but the boy (who is never named—this is a detail my daughter appreciates) becomes a witch hunter along with his grandma and together they save most of the kids.
My daughter adores this book. I have clear memories of my younger cousins adoring this book. I admit I didn’t quite get it, but as a grownup, I’m definitely not the target audience. However, I did find Dahl’s offbeat sense of humor amusing.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
At the beginning of the book, the boy’s parents are killed in a car accident. There is a very touching illustration by Quentin Blake, but aside from that the deaths are handled very matter of factly. At the end, the boy and his grandma casually mention that a boy who was turned into a mouse by the witches was probably killed by his parents. The lack of fanfare around deaths is slightly disturbing.
Sexism & Witches
The witches are all female and they are all unequivocally evil—their favorite trick is turning children into nasty things that other people (preferably their parents) will kill. They are completely inhuman, to the point of having bald heads, no toes, claw-like fingers, blue spit, etc. But they disguise themselves as human women, so you should always beware of women wearing gloves and wigs.
Grandma smokes a smelly cigar pretty much all the time. Even when she gets sick, she ignores the doctor and continues smoking.
To the witches, children smell like dog poop. I would expect some kids to pick up the refrain of “Pooooooo! Poooooooop!!” which is what the witches say whenever there are kids around.
Generally Odd Things
The boy ends up in a variety of very dangerous situations. Eventually a witch turns him into a mouse, and he doesn’t get better. Yes, he ends the book as an intelligent, talking mouse. He’s remarkably ok with this. He’s glad that mice don’t live as long, so now he won’t outlive his grandma. I’m not at all sure how I feel about this. He’s also pleased that as a mouse he won’t need to go to school anymore.
Because dirty kids don’t smell so much to witches, baths are evil. Kids should never be clean.
Enough kids have loved this book that I have to say it’s a good book for kids with a bizarre sense of humor, probably ages 8 to 12. But I don’t really get it. Roald Dahl is very creative and I appreciate that his books are unlike other stuff you’ll read, but I’m apparently too old to be part of the target audience. This might also be good for a reluctant reader because it’s fairly short and has illustrations on many pages, yet its story is likely to appeal to somewhat older kids.
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Published in 1983
Read the beat up old copy off my daughter’s bookshelf