It’s my spot on Lari’s blog tour for her Spellchasers trilogy. Below I have her guest post where she shares her views on witches. First I’d like to outline the first book in the series and tell you what I thought.
Book 1 – The Beginner’s Guide to Curses
Molly is a human girl whose encounter with a nasty neighbour leaves her turning into a hare whenever a dog barks. She’s been cursed and she needs to learn how to break the curse before she ends up as a dog’s dinner. She’s thrust into a world of witches, dryads, kelpies, sphinxes and fairies.
Molly joins a group in a curse breaking class where they are set a number of tasks to help them learn how to break the dark magic holding them and, in some cases their families, captive.
The first part of the book is a great introduction to the world and by working with the others Molly’s eyes are gradually opened to what is around her. There’s a good mix of humour and action as well as developing friendships between the children in the class that are severely tested at times.
The tension really increased when the curse-hatched crows start trying to foil their plans and I found myself reading the last third of the book at super hare speed.
I really liked Molly’s character and her role as moral compass in the group. And just who is the Toad in their class?
Does the whole class gets the promised result of lifting curses? You’ll have to read to find out.
It reminded me a little of the old TV show Woof. I wonder which of my readers are old enough to remember that!
Lari Don on witches
I have mixed feelings about witches. Particularly at this time of year (pointy hats, broomsticks, black capes and dropping chocolate eyeballs into plastic cauldrons…) I’m never entirely sure if I’m meant to find witches funny or fascinating, terrifying or tragic. Perhaps we love witches because they can be all of those things at once?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been absorbing mixed messages about witches. For example the idea that witches could be good or bad probably came from reading L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. The idea that witches were just ordinary people – male or female – who were unjustly tortured and killed definitely came from studying and performing in Arthur Miller’s The Crucibleas a teenager.
Fairy-tale witches, like the ones met by Hansel and Gretel or Rapunzel, were clearly villains. But reading local Scottish folklore showed a more nuanced picture.
In those traditional tales, witches had a living to make, just like anyone else. You could buy a fair wind or a love potion from your local witch. If you annoyed a witch, your child or cow might fall sick, but the best solution was to buy a bit of help from the next witch along. So the old tales weren’t really about good or bad witches, they were about witches who happened to be on your side or not.
And witches weren’t all powerful beings, just folk with a bit of skill and knowledge. Though they had wonderful abilities too. In the lore of the North East of Scotland, I discovered witches who could shapeshift into animals, often into hares.
That vivid piece of witchlore inspired my most recent novels, the Spellchasers trilogy, about a girl called Molly who is cursed (by a male witch) to shapeshift into a hare at inconvenient times, and seeks help from a female witch who runs a curse-lifting workshop.
So Molly encounters different kinds of witches – malevolent and helpful, male and female – and she also encounters other magical beings who argue about the wisdom and ethics of dealing with ‘dark magic’ at all.
I write adventure books for 8-12 year olds, so there are chases, ambushes, monsters, and excitement. But in amongst all the shapeshifting and cliffhangers, I couldn’t forget the historical reality of those accused of being witches.
I had many of the initial ideas for Spellchasers while walking round my local park: Lochend Park in Leith. And it was by that loch that a woman called Bessie Dunlop claimed she once saw fairies. Bessie Dunlop was tried as a witch and burnt to death in 1576.
I couldn’t just ignore that history, and the history of hundreds of other women and men accused, tortured, tried and executed, when I was writing about fictional witches.
So Molly’s research into curses for the curse-lifting workshop uncovers the tale of a local woman being burnt alive as a witch. Molly is disturbed by what happened to that long-ago witch, and I hope the readers are too…
I’m inspired by old tales and lore about witches. I’m keen to explore ideas about witches in my fiction. I’m happy to have fun with classes of kids making up spells to put in my brass cauldron. But I am also, under it all, disturbed and distressed by the history of witch persecution.
So, here, have a chocolate eyeball for your plastic cauldron, but please don’t forget the dark history behind the stories…
Lari’s favourite books about witches (and favourite witches)
Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle (Sophie)
Gill Arbuthnott – Dark Spell (the whole coven)
Vivian French – The Bag of Bones (NOT Truda Hangnail)
Robert Burns – Tam O’Shanter (Cutty Sark)
Arthur Miller – The Crucible (Tituba)
Lari Don is a full-time children’s writer and storyteller. She grew up in the North East of Scotland and now lives in Edinburgh. She writes in her garden shed, helped by purring cats and hindered by lurking spiders. Lari has written more than 20 books, including adventure novels, picture books and retellings of traditional tales. She can be found on Twitter @LariDonWriter or at
The Spellchasers trilogy is available and out now.
I was hugely lucky to pick up an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) of Moxie at YALC (the Young Adult Literature Convention) this year. I am really loving the proliferation of books that feature feminist characters. If you are a fan of Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club series you are going to love Moxie.
Vivian Carter is fed up.
Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong.
Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class.
But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.
Viv’s Mum was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrl in the 90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates Moxie, a feminist zone that she distributes anonymously to her classmates.
She’s just blowing off steam, but then other girls respond and begin to spread the Moxie message…
I loved the book so much I reached out to the PR to see if Jennifer would share some Activism tips with us. And huge thanks to Jennifer and Sarah for these tips from Vivian Carter herself.
Viv’s Tips for Activism
Hey, Moxie Girls! I’m so excited to share with you some tips that me and the other Moxie Girls hold dear to our hearts.
1) Support other girls! It sounds so obvious, but so much of being a feminist is supporting other women in a world that pits us against each other all the time. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t criticize other girls for justifiable reasons, but catch yourself when you feel the urge to make fun of another girl’s hair, clothes, weight, hobbies, or interests. Making fun of other girls because of their appearance or what they like to do is so not Moxie.
2) Be inclusive! Before Moxie, girls at East Rockport High didn’t really mix outside of their cliques. But feminism has to be intersectional and, thanks to Moxie, the girls of ERH are getting to know each other better. It’s so awesome! Being a feminist means voices of girls of color, girls with disabilities, queer girls and trans girls should be recognized and amplified! Make sure all girls feel welcome at your meet ups and, if you’re an activist, look to the voices of girls from other communities and listen to what they have to say. You’ll learn so much.
3) Educate yourself! The women’s movement didn’t start yesterday – it stretches back decades and centuries. Read your women’s history and learn about the movement’s successes, challenges, and missteps. If you’re in university, take a women’s studies class. I can’t wait to take one when I get to college! An educated feminist is a powerful feminist.
4) Reach out into your community! It’s great to start local, but take your activism outside the walls of your school if you can. In America, we have a real issue with shelters not having enough feminine hygiene products for female clients, so the Moxie Girls want to start collecting supplies for our local shelters. Is there a progressive female candidate running for office that needs your help or younger girls who need tutors or mentors? Is there a women’s organization in your area that you can learn more about? Go for it!
5) Have fun! Activism has to be fun! The first big Moxie meet up that Kiera organized at the VFW Hall helped solidify Moxie into a real movement at our school. Get together and dance, watch a feminist-friendly film, do each other’s makeup, and eat chocolate! Part of being a feminist activist is just enjoying the company of other girls and reminding yourself of what you’re fighting for!
Bonus Tip for male allies from Seth!
Hey, it’s me, Viv’s boyfriend, Seth. I wanted to chime in and say that feminists need male allies, and I’m proud to be one. What does it mean to be a male ally? It means listening to the feminists in your life and not taking the limelight. It means believing girls when they tell you what they’re going through and what they’re feeling. And it really means speaking up when your fellow guys start saying and doing stuff that objectifies and degrades women and girls. It’s hard to stand up and speak out – I get it – but it takes guts and it’s the brave thing to do. Forget the crap in the culture that tells you that “real men” are only out to get laid, get drunk, and be violent. Real men are protectors and defenders and stand up for what’s right. You’ve got this.
What I Thought
This was such a good book. It was a fun and quick read with some serious messages. Viv is such a great protagonist, she’s perhaps not your typical activist. On the surface she’s very quiet and perhaps the last person people would expect to stand up and shout. It’s the small drop in the water that creates the large ripples
There are so many parallels with what is happening in the news on a daily basis. Over the last week the #metoo campaign in response to insidious sexism in Hollywood has shown the power of women raising their voices.
The book includes the issues of Moxie that Viv produces and that adds an extra special touch that draws the reader into the story. Each issue encourages an action. A quiet protest such as writing hearts and stars on your hands to identify others like you (or you know bending the knee peacefully??!!).
Point 3 above is illustrated in the book through the inclusion of Viv’s Mum previous activism. Hopefully we can start to share these ideas with our children and encourage them to respectfully question.
I particularly love the inclusion of the character of Seth, the male feminist, the ally. As well as following women’s metoo stories do check out the few men who are examining their own past behaviour too.
Tying in to Viv’s tip no 5 about having fun I just want to do a shout out to the concept of Craftivism: the art of gentle protest. If you want to find out more check out this link.
Also check out the hashtag #feministfriday on Instagram today.
Thanks so much to Hachette Childrens for having ARCs of Moxie availabile at YALC.
You can buy your own copy from Amazon or your favourite independent bookshop.
This is a perfect Halloween read but I’d say it was more creepy with a slow building tension than out and out horrific. Although a few scenes may turn your stomach! Personally I found Gretchen’s mother’s attitude to books the most horrific thing in the book.
Abby and Gretchen first meet at Abby’s ET themed 10th birthday party, to which Gretchen is the only class member to turn up. Their friendship develops from there until the fateful night where everything changes. Don’t do drugs ladies or you’ll get possessed by a demon.
After a failed acid trip Gretchen turns from sour emo to grade A bitch. Think Heathers on steroids. But Abby stands by her and gradually works out what is going on with the help of someone whose demon vision is super-powered. The exorcist is a beefcake called Brother Lemon who reminds me of Edgar Frog from The Lost Boys in his intensity. Are he and Abby successful in saving Gretchen against all odds? You’ll just have to read to find out.
This was a witty, fun and surprisingly emotional read. Definitely one for ‘Be Kind Rewind and Read Again’.
Perfect for fans of the 80s, of Stranger Things and for people that enjoy reading about the power of female friendship. Each chapter heading references an 80s song and there’s even a Spotify playlist available. I just need this to be a movie now.
Thanks to Jamie-Lee and Quirk for the copy for the purposes of review. All the flailing above is my own.