Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Most Witch picture books for younger children fall into two categories: the classic, evil, conniving, poisonous, Wicked Witch or the possibly more insulting benign, batty, *eats eye-of-newt cereal*, Goofy Witch.
When I started searching out quality Witch role models for my daughter, I found the selection discouraging. Where were the Dangerous Old Women of Clarissa Pinkola Estes' lore, who challenge and strengthen us? Where were the Wise Women maligned by a society threatened by them (oh right- we're still threatened, still maligning)? Where were the Elders who preferred the forest to the town?
Strega Nona isn't Wicked or Goofy, but her Tuscan vibe is lacking in festive Halloween spookiness. Room on the Broom is a lovely story, though I suspect the Witch might be pretty Goofy if we met her on any other day. Enter Baba Yaga......
Baba Yaga is a mythical Witch with thousands of years of history in Russia and Finland. She is complex and ambiguous- sometimes kidnapping children, other times improving someone's fortune; sometimes eating people, other times revealing their futures. She is fearsome, but not evil.
My daughter's introduction to Baba Yaga was with Patricia Polacco's wonderful and gentle story about being misunderstood:
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Then we moved on to the slightly more intense story of a girl who manages to rescue her baby brother back after he's been kidnapped by Baba Yaga's geese minions:
Bony Legs is another good one for the 7+ age range:
And finally, when she was almost 9, she was ready for the emotional intensity of Marianna Mayer and K.Y. Craft's exquisitely illustrated Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave:
The only other Witch in storybooks that has grabbed and held our respect is Starhawk's Last Wild Witch:
This Witch is the most akin to our many ancestors who were branded with the word just for talking to trees and animals and knowing a thing or two about healing with soups and teas. She is a woman of few words and profound influence and, most thrilling of all, she's got a little melanin in her complexion, unlike her pale-faced Russian sisters (and most other Witches in most libraries and bookstores)! A Witch to be admired on many fronts.
Sadly, a couple of these treasures are out of print. As my girl grows up, we're able to find more Witches (or goddesses, as many were known before the smear campaign) in folktales and myths, but there's nothing quite like a picture book with a Witch you know and revere to curl up with. I only hope new ones are being dreamed up and created.
The search for Real Witches continues!