Hello my pretties! Ready for a spookalicious story?
*cackles and strokes chin wart*
No matter where we grew up, most of us can remember a mean or eccentric neighbor, a creepy old house that was supposedly haunted, or a place we were afraid (or not allowed) to frequent for one reason or another.
It was the kind of thing where we were both curious and terrified at the same time. We hungered for more even as we trembled in our boots. It’s wonderful how local lore and enduring legends figured in our childhoods, how we bore witness to the dynamic process of their evolution.
In The Pomegranate Witch (Chronicle Books, 2017), Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler serve up a deliciously eerie and suspenseful tale of five neighborhood kids who battle a green twiggy-fingered Witch for fruit from her haunted, zealously-guarded pomegranate tree.
Beyond the edge of town,
where streetlights stopped and sidewalks ended,
A small boy spied a farmhouse in a field long untended —
And before its sagging porch, amid a weedy foxtail sea,
Found the scary, legendary, haunted pomegranate tree.
The gnarled tree loomed high and wide; its branches scraped the ground.
Beneath there was a fort, of sorts, with leafed walls all around.
Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like, dirt ripplesnaked with roots,
But glorious were the big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruits.
Who could resist those luscious, forbidden fruit? Though many yearned for a taste, few were daring enough to risk being bristle-spanked or more by a frightful Witch whose “blood-red eyes stared through the thicker-thatch.”
But five brave souls, for whom the pomegranates were like an unquenchable thirst, did rise to the Witch’s challenge of an all-out face-off. The Pomegranate War was on!
Armed with “broken racquets, rusty rakes” and “a dead tree limb,” the gang plotted their ground assault. Overcome by “rushing, gushing” water cannons, they were forced to retreat, but quickly implemented Plan B.
Speeding towards the tree on their bikes, they were “bowled right under” by the barrage of black walnuts the Witch hurled in their path. Undaunted, the determined marauders “regrouped and reattacked” with trash-can shields in tow, only to be walloped, whacked and slapped by thrashing tree branches. Alas, they had no choice but to flee.
“But one small robber lingered.”
He snuck around the back of the tree while the Witch was busy driving the others away. After twisting and tugging one of the fruit multiple times, he finally managed to pluck it! He proudly held up his pomegranate prize for all to see. The rest of the gang was ecstatic, and happily shared the spoils — hundreds of sweet and tart ruby red seeds.
But the story didn’t end there. The children always knew there was one night they could safely visit the Witch’s house. On Halloween, while the Witch was off cavorting with ghosts and bats and such, a Kindly Lady welcomed trick-or-treaters with sweet apple cider, a chance to play with her peacock, and a special treat for each of their bags — “a big, red, round, ripe pomegranate!”
Hmmmm. Kindly Lady and combative Witch. Could they possibly be one and the same? None of the kids ever wondered who was who or which was witch. Why spoil all the magic and fun?
Thanks to Doyen’s brilliantly crafted rhyming verse, young readers will find the lively narrative instantly engaging and compelling. In an interview with April Halprin Wayland at Teaching Authors, Denise mentions that she chose to tell her story using a traditional ballad form, the same used for well known classics such as Paul Revere’s Ride and Casey at the Bat.
Her exuberant text, infused with inventive wordplay, is such a pleasure to read aloud, peppered as it is with cool and clever compound words (“ripplesnaked,” “witchcackle,” “shivershook” ). Much attention was paid to the use of sensory detail, alliteration, assonance, chewy/crunchy diction, sparkling end rhymes, and oodles of action verbs to pull the reader right along in breathless suspense. Especially effective was the repetition of the word “pomegranate” in short chant-like refrains to ramp up the mounting excitement: “The Pomegranate, Pomegranate, Pomegranate War.”
The ballad form, with its long lines of iambic heptameter, truly makes The Pomegranate Witch feel timeless. This bigger-than-life impression speaks directly to the child’s imagination and harkens back to a time when kids roamed free and went full tilt with their fantasy-fueled play.
I also love Eliza Wheeler’s pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations. Her primary palette of pea soup “sickly” greens and scrumptious red-oranges underscores the contrast between the haunted spookiness of the Witch and the lush richness of those alluring pomegranates. Wheeler has filled her pictures with lots of interesting details to keep young eyes busy with little clues related to the Witch’s identity. Especially gorgeous is the Halloween night double page spread with its greenish phases of the moon and wispy salmon colored clouds.
The kids in the gang are quirky, distinctive, multi-ethnic, and of different ages, making it easy for readers to picture themselves in the midst of all the action. They’ll love this romp of an adventure, especially since it features children who are in charge of themselves, pooling their own resources to forge a viable plan of attack.
And since Halloween is a time when everyone is allowed to be anything they want to be, there is much food for thought when it comes to dual identities and realizing things aren’t always as they seem. I was reminded a little of Miss Nelson is Missing — there’s mystery and suspense with just the right dose of scariness for the target readership.
Doyen and Wheeler have breathed fresh life into a classic scenario. This ingeniously executed gem is not to be missed!
THE POMEGRANATE WITCH
written by Denise Doyen
illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
published by Chronicle Books, August 2017
Picture Book for ages 5-8, 40 pp.
**Starred Review* from Publishers Weekly
🎃 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 🎃
The publisher has generously donated a copy of The Pomegranate Witch for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post telling us what your favorite Halloween treat is no later than midnight (EST) Sunday, October 22, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with POMEGRANATE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!
🌺 KNISH WAR ON RIVINGTON STREET GIVEAWAY WINNER! 🥁
For Halloween this year, Mr Cornelius and all the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers are dressing up as Monsieur Random Integer Generator. Just thought we’d share that information in case you notice an unexpected shortage of fake mustaches in the stores these days. 😀
M. Generator was only too pleased to select a winner after consuming 1,248 potato and onion knishes. *burp*
Without any further doodle-ee-doo, the winner is:
📘 🎉 JACQUIE!! 🎈👏 👏
Please email me with your snail mail address to receive your prize.
Thanks to everyone for entering!
Leigh Anne is hosting the Roundup at A Day in the Life. Zip over on your broomstick and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.