This is such a beautiful book with whimsy and deeply fantastical world building yet an undercurrent of pithy social observation. Dragons, trolls, monsters from under the bed and more!!
Punctuated and annotated throughout with gorgeous illustrations by Sarah Warburton this book is a beautiful gift to childhood imagination and perfect for fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Nevermoor and the The Train to Impossible Places (without the train!!)
Willow Moss doesn’t feel her magic is up to much, and magic isn’t really what it used to be anyway. Who wants to be good at finding things when one sister can blow things up and the other can move anything with her mind?
Yet one day the most feared witch in all the land turns up at Willows Gate with a proposition; come and help her find what happened to Tuesday because nobody can remember for the life of them, and for some it’s a matter of life, death or fiery bottoms.
So Willlow sets off with her nan’s trusty bag, her cat-not-cat-I’m-The-monster-under-The-bed Oswin and hope to find out what happened because something is tickling her that something very important happened that she must discover.
Practical makes perfect
This is such a gorgeous whimsical adventure beautifully magical and envelopes you in a deep and incredibly layered world of imagination.
There’s eccentric flavours of Dahl, Pratchett, of Kaye Umansky’s Elsie Pickles stories and of a magical time and place where anything can and will happen like Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor but with a self-awareness and humour that brightens the plot and enlightens the heart of readers.
Wot choo go and sign us up for a rumble with a madwoman for? Vicious Witch, she eats peoples! She pickles children in ginger! Makes candles with yer earwax!
OSWIN 💜 Oswin is a magical creature that Willow ‘found’ one day and he swears he is a type of monster under the bed called a kobold, and is most certainly not just a grumpy talking regular cat with a dash of kobold back in his family tree nope no way.
Oswin wants to be swaggering danger like a certain Greebo (Pratchett) but is more like Paranoid Android’s gloomy grump-face (Douglas C Adams) with a dash of Rincewind (Pratchett) and comedic cowardice in a particularly special and comic dialect which I always hear in an Monty Python’s Eric Idle doing a woman’s voice crossed with Yoda sort of tone.
Moreg Vaine is like a scary Mary Poppins, she makes the queue of visitors blow away at the beginning of the book; she has a magic cloak that is like Mary Poppins’ special carpet bag; and she has an air of knowing everything and everyone such as instead of knowing all the lamplighters and chimney sweeps she is friendly with the Mememtoms who make magic broomsticks but are super tall and were rumoured to eat humans!
She is as if Mary Poppins spent some time with Granny Weatherwax (Terry Pratchett) with a dash of Magenta Sharp (Kaye Umansky) and decided to sharpen herself but still at heart believes in the power of children to lift themselves.
Never thought this would happen in my city. First they told us we HAD to live here and now they tell us we must get OUT? Don’ even make sense. We’ve lived here for years peacefully, making the best of a bad situation, paying our taxes…contributin’. It’s not like we deserved this; we’ve done nothing wrong.
I found there to be an incredibly poignant and thought provoking sub-commentary on the way there is a systematic marginalisation of Magical people that in turn creates state-empowered discrimination under the Brothers of Wol that is a metaphor for so many situations both historical and contemporary.
The concept of segregating the communities and allocated areas for magical people that are then ‘cleared’ is incredibly deep but subtle enough for Middle Grade to walk around and enjoy the plot, or to embrace and talk about what we are seeing.
The discussion of Moreg’s childhood (and by association Willow’s family’s history) and the Ditchwater district smacks of ghettoisation. This is such a clever way to discuss the enforced segregation of communities and rooting the protagonist within this a fictional group offers much opportunity for empathy and compassion. The metaphor is a great way to lead children into discussion about historical segregation whether South African Apartheid, Civil Rights in the USA, ghettoisation and the Holocaust under Nazi rule/Occupation or bringing up to date in discussion of free movement, migrant or refugee communities.
A lot of potential thought from a children’s book about magic, OR you can just enjoy the book and isn’t that the best kind?
Magic never dies – it simply waits until we are ready for it.
Regardless of whether you read for fun or for deeper meaning, there is a rich seam of beautiful narrative in this book to inspire the young reader, those looking for magic in the mundane, those thinking themselves not quite up to the standard of others but like Willow finding themselves to be more than the sum of their parts.
A wonderful book that I look forward to my girls reading and to discovering more from Willow’s world.
Starfell by Dominique Valente Illustrated by Sarah Warburton is published by Harper Collins.