In the Santa Ana Public Library Children's Room way back in the sepia-toned 1990s, I discovered an old copy of Rosemary's Witch
by Ann Turner, published in 1991.
I was instantly entranced by the lyrical, melancholy poetry of this small yet powerful novel. It's really beautifully written. Turner portrays the witch, Mathilda, with a keen sense of aching loneliness. Almost every line is graceful. For example, the first few lines of the book:
In the smoky blue-green hills of summer, where the phoebe calls and hawks sail lazily overhead, is a town called Woodhaven. That is where it began.
It was a town like a hat someone had thrown away for being too plain, for not having bird wings on it or bobbing strawberries.
Then in the following chapter, when we're introduced to the witch:
She found the cottage one day as she flew low over her woods. Mathilda almost missed it, the black, rotting roof hidden by two pines. She settled slowly to earth and walked in.
"Home." The word squeezed out. The edges of her mouth flaked. "Home," she creaked. Not a cave. Not a dark, wet hole in a rock. She sighed.
Later, Mathilda finds an old ragged doll by the stream, under a rock. It's faceless, and the stuffing is mostly gone. Mathilda cradles it, cleans it, and stuffs it full of moss and pine needles.
"Doll." Her mouth hurt. "Who left you-- there?" Abandoned. Left alone. Cold winds and cold rain on the doll's face. Dogs nosing her. A cold rock her roof.
How could I not love this book?! It sent chills through me, and I never forgot it. Flipping through it now, I even think it influenced my own writing. At least it made me want to TRY to write something that nuanced and evocative.
The copy I read was hardback, and had a moody cover that I wish I could remember better. I think it had a ragged, faceless doll, and maybe the hazy form of a withered old woman behind a dirty window. I KNOW it was better than the picture on the stupid paperback, which I recently picked up for $1 in a used book store.
I had brought book donations in for credit, which is the sad way we get most of my library's "new" books now. I was so excited to find this subtle diamond of a book that I bought it even though the paperback cover looks like this:
|Totally looks like The Babysitter's Club Halloween Special #368|
This craptastic Scholastic cover in NO WAY reflects what this book is really like. It pains me. I even searched online for a picture of the old hardback cover illustration, just to make myself feel better, but couldn't find it anywhere. Maybe it's not even as cool as I remember, but it's certainly better than the one above.
I plan to really push this book now that it's ready for checkout. I will keep displaying it, and talking it up to the kids I think will appreciate it.
Especially during October.