Written by William Steig, Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000
Wizzil the witch was busy biting her nails. “Beatrice,” she said, “I’m bored stiff.”
The plot in a nutshell: A bored witch tries to amuse herself (and her pet parrot) by wreaking havoc on a neighbor family, but her attempts don’t go as planned.
At first read-through, this story seems bizarrely random. There’s a bored witch, a domineering parrot, a man obsessed with swatting flies and a family named Frimp. But read through it again and you’ll see it’s a very funny story, with unexpected happenings at every turn. I can’t say I loved this one, but the combination of author William Steig and artist Quentin Blake can’t go far wrong.
Mr. Steig started as a cartoonist for the New Yorker in 1930 and it was 38 years later that he wrote his first children’s book. Over his career, he wrote more than 30 children’s books and won the Caldecott Medal for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Mr. Blake is perhaps best known for his illustrations in 18 of Roald Dahl’s books, but he has also authored 35 books of his own. All told, he was author or illustrator on over 300 books, which is amazingly prolific.
At one point in the story, Wizzil turns herself into a glove for DeWitt Frimp, the elderly head of the Frimp family, to wear, so that she can stop him from swatting flies and force him to do other mischievous things. He rebels by throwing the glove into the river and as the glove turns back into Wizzil, she begins to drown. DeWitt jumps in to save her, even while knowing she has been the cause of all this trouble for his family, because he can’t let a fellow person die. A nice lesson in loving your neighbor that results in a very happy ending for everyone.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that having friends and treating them well is considerably less boring than being alone and plotting mischief.