Monday, July 22, 2013

Re-imagining the Witch in YA & MG lit

Double, double toil and trouble; 
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

The three witches in Macbeth are the epitome of the traditional Western witch— malevolent women, sometimes warty, casting spells and causing mischief.  But storytellers love to play with this stereotype—and sometimes even turn it on its head.  

One of the reasons witches continue to be so popular in literature is because authors can use them to symbolize so many different ideas.   Here are a few of our favorite witchy books and the themes they explore.

Coming into magical powers (or accepting their lack) as a metaphor for coming of age:

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle by Deva Fagan
Bras and Broomsticks by Sarah Mlynowski

Witches and Persecution:

Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Witch Child by Celia Rees
The Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell
Walking with Witches by Lynn Huggins-Cooper

Using witches to question good and evil/beauty and ugliness:

Chime by Franny Billingsley
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Exploring witch legends of many cultures:

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Nigerian Ekpe societies)
Goblin Secrets by William Alexander (Russian Baba Yaga folktales)
A Third Magic by Wilton Welwyn Katz (Welsh King Arthur/ Morgan le Fay legends)
Plain Kate (Russian Rusalka folktales)

Witch books with a great romance:

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey
Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle

Books about the power of sisterhood:

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
The Twitches series by H. B. Gilmour and Randi Reisfeld
Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
(not to mention Charmed!)

Witches that just make us laugh:

Equal Rites, The Wee Free Men (and many others) by Terry Pratchett
Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson
The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

Witches, whether good or evil, fascinate us.  For me it’s because I have a secret wish to have a little bit of their power and mystery.  What are some of your favorite witchy books and why do you love them?

Lena Coakley’s own witchy book, Witchlanders, was called “one stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for the Americas.  It is a 2013 MYRCA nominee and a 2013 OLA White Pine honouree.  Lena is also the author of two children’s picture books and the former administrative director of CANSCAIP. Learn more about her at


  1. Ibbottson's Which Witch is one of my all time favorites! And you've added a few more must reads to my list. Well Done!


  2. Great post, Lena! I confess I love literary witches, and there are some great books in here that I need to add to my tbr list!

  3. I love this post, Lena. I've always loved witches -- and I adored Witchlanders. I can't wait to read some of these this summer!

  4. Ooo, I forgot about Akata Witch! Loved that book. Keep meaning to read the Ibbottson--I love her stuff. And of course anything by Wynne Jones, Gaiman or Pratchett. Hmmm...maybe I have a witch obsession myself, Lena!

  5. Thanks guys! I read and loved both Once a Witch and The Witch of Blackbird Pond as a kid but had forgotten all about them until I started doing research for this post. Really looking forward to rereading them now.

    So glad I could suggest a few that some people hadn't read yet! And Erin, I'm so glad you liked Witchlanders!

  6. Well, my reading list just exploded. :-) Thanks for the great witchy roundup!

  7. Howl's Moving Castle (and its sequels), as so many of DWJ's books do, turns the witch (and fairy tale in general) trope on its head, and is an absolutely fantastic read. I want to be Sophie when I grow up!


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