Alice and Greta
By Steve Simmons
Illustrated by Cyd Moore
Alice is a good witch. And Greta…well, Greta and trouble are never far apart. But when a forgotten spell comes back to haunt Greta, she finds herself in a position where she must learn something she should have learned long ago…. Cyd Moore’s vibrant, whimsical illustrations complete the magic of this clever tale.
The effects of artistic license become clear in this picture book from Simmons, who shows what happens to two witches who attend the same school, and are taught the same lessons, but find widely different uses for their craft. Alice’s bucolic perch on a mountain has a sign that says “Welcome!” while Greta’s sign warns, “Keep Away!” Butterflies and bluebirds attend one child-witch, buzzards and bats the other. When school’s out, the stage is set: Alice conjures a wave for a family whose boat is stranded on a sandbar, while Greta conjures a similar wave to wash away a child’s sandcastle. More examples of their opposing worldviews follow, but most readers will get the point, and it may be the simple predictability of the plot they will enjoy most. By the time Greta gets her comeuppance–she was not in school the day the most important of witchy lessons was taught, a take on the old what-goes-around-comes-around chestnut–readers will be anticipating the punishment, but not Alice’s reward. As a result of all her good deeds, her view from the hill is getting “better and better,” with levitating children bearing thank-you notes, cookies, and flowers. Moore has a style like Lynn Munsinger’s, with charmingly detailed watercolors that endlessly tinker with the symmetry of the tale–e.g., the bats have come to Alice’s side in the last scene. (Picture book. 4-8)
Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
Alice and Greta are two witches who see things differently. Whereas Alice is as rosy as the clothes she wears, Greta can’t help but make trouble. Although they learn the same spells at school, these spells are used for differing purposes. While Alice may send a wave to shore to help a family’s beached boat float, Greta will use a similar chant to flood a child’s masterpiece sand castle. Yet, there is one important lesson Greta does not learn – the Brewmerang Principle: “Whatever you chant, whatever you brew, sooner or later comes back to you!” Indeed it does, producing one sticky satisfying mess with Greta stuck in the middle. While this book could have easily fallen into the trap of didacticism, it manages instead to present the golden rule in a disarming kid-oriented manner. Alice may be a sunny do-gooder but her self-satisfaction is well balanced by the delight Greta feels in creating trouble. The lighthearted, lively illustrations play a large role in the success of this title. While the text outlines each situation, the drawings interpret each scene with specifics, from the wands that emit either stars and sparklers or lightning bolts to the Medusa-like hair Greta bestows on a classmate. Using a consistent palette of pink and green, the illustrator adds to the steady flow of the story. The chants themselves are handwritten helping to create a feeling of authenticity. This is a book which young children will ask to hear over and over again. It’s nice to think there’s a witch out there rooting just for them.