Rosemary is a fairy who doesn’t want to be neat and sweet all the time. No way! She’d rather be a witch living in a treehouse in the witches’ wood, roller-skating and getting nice and dirty. Her mum rejects her wayward daughter’s choices, while the witches encourage Rosemary to take risks and challenge herself. But the bond of maternal love is strong and when Rosemary’s mum ventures into the wood to find her daughter, she too discovers that being a witch can be good fun!
There is much to enjoy in this picture book for children ages 4-8, not least the feisty main character. Rosemary knows what she wants, and she’s prepared to take action to achieve her aims. She’s a mischievous go-getter whose rebellious behaviour doesn’t quite mask her affection for her mother. And there’s an important message in her determination to be a witch rather than a fairy—of giving children the freedom to express their identity rather than forcing them to conform to societal norms. Readers can also learn from Rosemary’s mum. By venturing into unknown territory, she not only overcomes her prejudices about witches, she comes to accept her daughter as she is.
Laura Watkinson’s translation from the Dutch is beautifully paced and fun to read. And Carll Cneut’s multi-layered acrylic illustrations are extraordinary. Dark woods are enlivened by pops of colour, a plethora of pink and red blossoms burst across a double page spread, and pointy-nosed witches with impossibly tall hats surface from the page.
Let’s hope young readers will be encouraged to channel their inner witch after reading this wonderfully unique story. Or perhaps they’ll opt for magic wands and fairy dresses instead. Or maybe there’s a third possibility: choosing to be a witchfairy!
Originally published in Dutch as Heksenfee by Uitgeverij De Eenhoorn Wielsbeke, 2016.
Witchfairy by Brigitte Minne, illustrated by Carll Cneut, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson (Book Island, 2017)
Brigitte Minne is an award-winning children’s author, scriptwriter, director and producer of children’s programs and films. She lives in Belgium.
Carll Cneut is a multi-award-winning Flemish illustrator who has illustrated more than 20 children’s books. His work has been published in almost 40 countries and his paintings have also been exhibited around the world. He teaches illustration at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium.
Laura Watkinson is a British literary translator, who translates from Dutch, German and Italian into English. Her work spans children’s books, comics and adult literature. She lives in a very tall, thin house in Amsterdam.
Watch an interview with illustrator Carll Cneut here
Note: This is a lightly edited version of the post first published on the #WorldKidLitWednesday column of the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative blog on 8 January 2020.