The Witch's Children Go to School by Ursula Jones and Russell Ayto
It's Gemma's first day at school and she's frightened. Class Three look to be very large and particularly intimidating and Gemma doesn't dare to go into school. Help is at hand though – well, they like to think that they're helping! The witch's children go into the playground with Gemma and the Eldest One turns Gemma into an ogre.
Ogres aren't scared of anyone, he said. In you go.
Gemma strode into school the way that only an ogre can and the first thing that she did was to eat the teacher's desk. Even being poked with the caretaker's squeezy-mop didn't have any effect.
Class One screamed.
Class Two shrieked and Class Three ran into the toilets.
And Gemma realised that she didn't want to be an ogre because everyone was scared of her. She asked Eldest One to change her back, but he couldn't as he hadn't learned how to do that yet. Then the ogre cried and left a trail of desolation as it wandered through the school.
The Middle One had an idea to put matters right and he turned the school into a story book. Class One became dancing princesses and the head teacher turned into an emperor. Right through the school he went so that everyone had their part to play and their story to tell. They had a wonderful time – until the school inspector arrived and demanded that the story book turn back into a school. But even his authority wasn't enough and nothing could be sorted out until the witch herself arrived.
It's a gloriously anarchic book with all the terrors that small children face when they first go to school being turned into the absurd. The worries are never minimised or underestimated – Gemma could never for a moment feel that she was silly to be worried – but they're all reduced in size until they become something to laugh about. Who can be scared of the long-legged, bubblegum-popping boys of Class Three when they're all trying to squash into the toilet? Even the school inspector isn't quite so fearsome when he's a big smelly cheese. It's good too that it's clear that aggression is not the way to overcome fear.
It's a joy to read aloud – well, it is if you can stop giggling, because the humour really is infectious and the bold illustrations by Russell Ayto complement the text perfectly. When the school cat sits on the roof and howls at the sight of the witch's children I swear that I could see right down his throat to his tummy. Even Class Three learn a lesson when they're turned into Ali Baba and the forty fleas – and please don't scratch when you see them jumping about.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.
We've seen a number of books which tackle the fear of those first days at school but this is probably one of the best. On the general theme of fears we loved Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett. For a story about learning how to do something difficult it would be difficult to beat Little by Little by Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow but if it's witches you're interested in then have a look at My Unwilling Witch.
The Witch's Children Go to School by Ursula Jones and Russell Ayto is in the Top Ten Picture Books For Halloween.
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