Author: Nina Bawden
Finished on: 6 April 2016
Where did I get this book: The wonderful Scrivener’s bookshop in Buxton (the second best bookshop in Derbyshire) bought for my daughter
This was a birthday present for my daughter, chosen from a delicious box of young Puffins at Scrivener’s. It is also made extra enticing by illustrations from Shirley Hughes, who I love (and who is officially the best illustrator in the world of deeply comforting pictures of people having cups of tea – unfortunately no cup of tea pictures to be found here though).
I want to read almost every book my daughter reads these days. While it gets me nowhere on my quest to read my shelves dry, her choices are so hard to resist. She loves tales of adventure and excitement. And especially during the book buying ban, I have been known to satiate myself by buying books for her because I can’t buy them for myself. She reads so fast that I know there won’t be the same issue that I have with leaving hundreds of books unread and dusty on the shelves for decades.
But of all the amazing books my daughter has read recently, with hindsight this probably wasn’t a great one to pick.
It begins with a young girl who may or may not have magical powers, and a mysterious gang of jewel thieves. Promising stuff. But this reads like a Blyton-era adventure (despite being written later, in 1966) where the boys look after the girls (even ones who may have magical powers) and we look down our noses at poor people, and are suspicious of the unconventional.
I loved The Famous Five so very much as a child, but on the few occasions when I have reread one of these stories, it has been a wholly painful experience. All the characters are deeply annoying, without exception. Even my beloved George, who I thought was so wonderful, has to pretend to be a boy in order to do anything interesting, and spends a distressing amount of time being disparaging about ‘girls’. I don’t think it did me any harm to read this as a child; that aspect of it all seemed to go over my head completely. But as an adult, it is not enjoyable to go back and revisit these books.
So while I wouldn’t quite put The Witch’s Daughter in the same league as Blyton for toe-curling sexism and snobbery, it is in the same ballpark. And it felt like a bit of a swizz that the promise of the witch’s daughter’s supernatural powers is never fully explored. I wanted to know where she came from; who her mother was, and these most interesting questions are not answered.
Sometimes books for children are just books for children. A bit dull.