A children’s tale that reveals a little girl’s travails combines suspense, fantasy, and some dark fears.
Hadley Brighton’s parents decide to take a 10-day cruise, leaving the girl under the supervision of a high school–aged babysitter, Zoe. One day, an old woman named Maxine Grimm arrives unannounced, claiming to be Hadley’s great-aunt, a revelation of sorts because Hadley is sure she has never heard of her. Maxine informs Hadley that her parents’ ship capsized, the two are lost at sea, and in the interim she plans to take Hadley to her own home, where she lives with her younger sister, Charmaine. Terrified at the prospect that her parents are gone forever, Hadley reluctantly leaves with Maxine and is quickly subjected to an oddly regimented schedule that essentially reduces her to the role of a housekeeper. She spends the bulk of her day completing chores—mostly cleaning duties the aunts consider so grotesque as to be beneath them—and her aunts actually compel Hadley to dance for her supper. She turns out to be a precociously gifted dancer. Hadley becomes reasonably suspicious of her aunts, not merely because of their virtual enslavement of her and their general oddness, but also because they seem cruelly dismissive of her understandably persistent interest in her parents’ fate. Then Hadley hears a rumbling in an oversized dustbin the aunts inexplicably keep, and a talking beetle discloses that they are actually witches who intend to suck out her talent, as they have done to so many children before: “Anyhow, they did their talent every night for the witches, and then one night—poof! All that was left was ashes. And then the witches sweep up the ashes and put them in the bin.” Hadley has no choice but to craft a plan to escape the Grimm House before she becomes yet another victim of Maxine and Charmaine. Written for young children, this brief story artfully combines magical flights from reality, an endearing touch of sweetness, and some genuinely creepy material still appropriate for a younger reader. It’s unclear why parents would leave a child with a teenager for 10 days or why that babysitter would so easily surrender her charge to a stranger, but these wrinkles in the plot never diminish its overall charm. McQuestion (Write That Novel!, 2016, etc.), who has written two other books for younger readers, has produced a delightful tale for children to peruse or for parents to read to their kids.
An imaginative fable about two witches that should excite young readers.