Tag Archive | witches

Sally Arnold by Cheryl Ryan

Sally Arnold by Cheryl Ryan

There’s a secret character in Sally Arnold: the Appalachian Mountains. “The setting of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia…were ideal subject matter for my paintings,” says illustrator Bill Farnsworth – “combined with the very real people of this part of America.” Author Cheryl Ryan lived on one of the mountain’s crooked ridges, where she’d heard the folk stories about Sally Arnold. Ryan lives in a tiny West Virginia town on a crooked ridge they call Sally’s Backbone – and decided to write her own story about Sally.

She dedicates it to “all who have ever gone down Sally’s Backbone to Fox’s store.”

A little girl named Jenny works in her grandfather’s store, but she knows most people shop on Saturday night, when they come for a weekend visit to the country town. When she’s bored, she plays her fiddle and pretends it’s Saturday night. There’s a checkerboard on a barrel and canned goods on the shelves. And the customers tell stories of a woman named Sally Arnold.

There’s a real sense of the town and its people, so Sally assumes the size of a legend. Sally has white hair and she looks like a witch. She lived by herself, in a shack which was “ready to slide into the creek.” She was always collecting things, sometimes searching the ditches for berries, mushrooms, and wild asparagus. “Maybe she’s just lonely,” thinks the little girl – who is already lonely herself. And on Saturday night, Sally plays the harmonica while Jenny plays the fiddle and her grandfather strums on a banjo.

There’s a mystery around Sally, and Jenny wants to explore it. One day after church, she follows Sally to her shack up the ridge. But instead she falls into the creek, her wet hair covering her eyes. The next thing she sees are “blue eyes framed in wrinkles,” as Sally Arnold has the last laugh. “Well, look what the creek brought me today! Company!”

And it turns out that Sally’s shack has a charm all its own. There’s hummingbirds in the flowers by the porch. A lazy cat stretches and yawns. Sally weaves “gathering baskets” out of the cattails she’s collected at the mud flats. Ands he understands the life of a bluebird carrying straw. “She gathers what she needs from what she finds and makes something new.” And soon it’s Sally and the little girl who are searching the ditches and road banks for berries, mushrooms, and wild asparagus. “They talk. They sing. And they never, ever walk down the road empty-handed.”

A Job for Wittilda, by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner

A Job for Wittilda, by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner

“There were cats on the table, cats on the chairs, cats on the sofa, the bookshelves, the stairs!” But unfortunately, poor Wittilda is out of food to feed her enormous collection of 47 cats. You’d think a witch would just magically whip up 47 bowls of cat food – but she tries a different approach. Wittilda heads out into the modern economy, and just tries to land herself a day job!

It’s funny that she has 47 cats, and it’s also funny to watch her adventures in the workforce. But “A Job for Wittilda” also gets some of its humor from the slick illustrations by artist Mark Buehner. There’s big-eyed cats, and they prowl through the witch’s cabinet, or perch in a long line across the back of her chair. And Wittilda herself wears jeweled horn-rimmed glasses – over a cutely-drawn bulbous nose.

But for a witch, she leads a surprisingly ordinary life. Wittilda gets a job at her aunt’s hairdresser’s shop. (Though she’s fired after weaving the woman’s hair into an enormous spider web pattern – and adding a real spider for extra effect.) She gets another chance to earn money for his pets, but this one is even more ordinary. Wittilda tries out for a job as a pizza delivery person.

There’s some rhymes on the first page, which set a lively tone. (Though I still think the cats were the most exciting thing about the book.) But the plot’s tension rises with a pizza delivering-showdown. If Wittilda can beat every one of the other delivery-boy candidates, she’ll finally be able to earn the cats’ dinner money. And fortunately, she’s got a secret weapon. She can deliver them on a broom that flies…

It’s one of the first children’s picture books by Mark Buehner’s wife Caralyn, and it was finished shortly after “Escape of Marvin the Ape.” And it seems like Mark is trying extra hard to make the book entertaining, while also appealing to fans of the earlier book. “Eagle-eyed young readers will also find a bonus of laughter in the antics of the alert little mouse and the cheerful spider in each picture,” notes the book’s jacket, “as well as other animals (including Marvin, who makes a cameo appearance) hidden in the cloud and elsewhere.” This book is called “A Job for Wittilda,” but it all comes down to her big pizza-delivery adventure.

Unfortunately, just as she’s about to win the contest, she spots a stray cat that’s trapped in a tree…