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The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children

4.3 13
by Keith McGowan, Laural Merlington (Read by)

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Grade Level: 4-6 Age Level: 9-11 Listening Level: 4-6

When Sol and Connie Blink move to Grand Creek, one of the first people to welcome them is an odd older woman, Fay Holaderry, and her friendly dog, Swift, who carries a very strange bone in his mouth. Sol knows a lot more than the average eleven-year-old, so when he identifies the bone as a human femur


Grade Level: 4-6 Age Level: 9-11 Listening Level: 4-6

When Sol and Connie Blink move to Grand Creek, one of the first people to welcome them is an odd older woman, Fay Holaderry, and her friendly dog, Swift, who carries a very strange bone in his mouth. Sol knows a lot more than the average eleven-year-old, so when he identifies the bone as a human femur, he and Connie begin to wonder if their new neighbor is up to no good.
In a spine-tingling adventure that makes them think twice about whom they can trust, Sol and Connie discover that solving mysteries can be a dangerous game — even for skilled junior sleuths.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
McGowan makes a strong debut with this contemporary recasting of Hansel and Gretel, starring 11-year-old Sol and eight-year-old Connie Blink. Based on the notion that today’s parents could be tempted to deliver their children into the hands of a cannibalistic witch, the story relies on Sol’s intelligence, scientific acuity and talent for research, as well as Connie’s subtle cunning, deviousness and confidence in Sol, to defeat their parents’ plot—and, eventually, the witch. A spine-chillingly humorous opening by the witch—“Derek was a great disappointment to his parents. He didn’t disappoint me, though... baked with secret ingredients, and served with my very yummy, homemade key lime pie”—alerts readers to the upcoming dangers; the later revelation (again, for readers only) that Mr. and Mrs. Blink are not who they seem adds further suspense. Tanaka’s sophisticated shaded-pencil drawings, presented in full-page bleeds and plentiful spot illustrations, create a disturbing, mysterious aura and enhance the sense of danger. Shades of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket hover over McGowan’s tale, but up-to-date touches such as cellphones and the Internet make it especially accessible and appealing for thrill-seeking readers. Ages 9–12. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—A modernized version of Hansel and Gretel, with a few creepy, cannibalistic references. Sol, 11, and Connie, 8, move to Schoneberg with the man they believe is their father (he is their father's twin) and their stepmother. The children soon discover that the neighbor's pet dog has a habit of digging up human bones, and that "Dad" has a great motive for wanting them gone. The story alternates between the siblings' dawning understanding that nothing in the town is as it seems and the journal of their neighbor, a witch, in which she reminisces fondly about her past meals, including a Silence of the Lambs moment in which she enjoys one child "cooked with capsicum and washed down with a fine mead." Highly stylized illustrations do much to enhance the story. Readers of Dan Greenburg's "Secrets of Dripping Fang" series (Harcourt) may enjoy this tale. Readers of Donna Jo Napoli's The Magic Circle (Puffin, 1995), a more psychological Hansel and Gretel variant told from the witch's point of view, will find this is a very different retelling.—Kathleen Meulen Ellison, Sakai Intermediate School, Bainbridge Island, WA
Kirkus Reviews
In this mordant contemporary remake of "Hansel and Gretel," 11-year-old Sol and his little sister Connie find out the hard way that their next-door neighbor is a centuries-old witch. Readers know what's in store for Sol and Connie right from the riveting opening line, which is taken from the witch's deliciously detailed diary: "I love children. Eating them, that is." She never goes hungry either, because there are always misbehaving children being "donated" by weary parents-or snagged by one of the witch's secret allies, of which the town librarian is one. Though evidently unfamiliar with the traditional tale, Sol, a genius with electronic gear, and his even more clever little sib quickly figure out that something's wrong and launch an investigation. Not that that keeps them out of the witch's clutches . . . . McGowan doesn't follow the traditional plot very closely but he does include some folkloric elements. He sets up a credible chemistry between the children and gives the witch her say through her diary, which punctuates the narration. Tanaka's occasional full-page views of grim, heavy-lidded figures add a suitably gothic tone. Yum. (Fantasy. 11-13)
From the Publisher

“Fans of Lemony Snicket's best-selling A Series of Unfortunate Events should love Keith McGowan's beguiling debut, a modern version of the Grimm Brothers' chilling tale of Hansel and Gretel.” —USA Today

“A semisweet literary treat for the kiddies . . . Keith McGowan's re-telling of Hansel and Gretel's misadventures, The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children, retains the disturbing vibe of the original, but spices it up with some seriously cerebral humor that will delight and challenge the inquisitive youngster.” —The New Yorker

“Oooooh. That witch from Hansel and Gretel is back and she very well may be living right . . . next . . . door. In a conspiracy of lunacy, a whole town seems to be in cahoots with chaos to get those two little urchins to succumb to being the entree on the witch's table. This updated book is still deliciously naughty.” —Kiwi magazine

“McGowan makes a strong debut. . . . Shades of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket hover over McGowan's tale, but up-to-date touches . . . make it especially accessible and appealing for thrill-seeking readers.” —Publishers Weekly

“Evoking Roald Dahl's The Witches, McGowan's edgy debut novel incorporates magic, clever references to the original tale, a cast of diverse characters, and Snicket-esque narration. The witch's interspersed journal entries, including the opening chapter, ‘How to Cook and Eat Children: A Cautionary Tale by the Witch Fay Holaderry,' breezily, and ominously, set the book's dark tone. Periodic shadowy illustrations add unsettling eeriness to this open-ended story that will likely draw fans of shivery, suspenseful mysteries.” —Booklist

“Readers know what's in store for Sol and Connie right from the riveting opening line. . . . Tanaka's occasional full-page views of grim, heavy-lidded figures add a suitably gothic tone. Yum.” —Kirkus Reviews

“McGowan's modern retelling of the Hansel and Gretel plot is nuanced, fascinating, and gratifyingly dark without being graphic or horrific.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“A modernized version of Hansel and Gretel. . . . Highly stylized illustrations . . . enhance the story.” —School Library Journal

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Library Edition
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Solomon and Constance Blink—Sol and Connie for short—moved into the town of Grand Creek one hot day in the middle of August. Sol was eleven and Connie was eight.

     The late afternoon sun streamed over the mountains into Sol’s new bedroom as he unpacked. He’d already taken out a telescope and a microscope. These allowed him to peer into other worlds, large and small, that sometimes seemed more appealing than this one.

     He examined the instruments, his hand at his chin, his long hair falling in front of his shoulders.

     He unpacked a box of science books next, checking their titles as he ordered and stacked them. Most of the books looked advanced, almost like what scientists might have had on their own shelves. Sol, you see, was a very smart boy.

     His intelligence, however, hadn’t helped to make him the number one most popular boy at his old school. Popular slots two to one hundred had also been taken.

     Sol may have been remembering his old school just then, because his lips twisted into a grimace. Maybe he was even remembering his worst day ever. Last spring.

     The Terrible Day . . .

     He didn’t know that an even more terrible day lay ahead for him.

     The next box Sol opened held a curious device, which he removed carefully. The device was something he had made himself. It had a CPU—central processing unit—at center and an octopus of wires attaching the CPU to meters and a screen. That screen displayed, in order, the temperature, barometric pressure, time, and, based on all of that information, a guess at the current weather. The screen showed, “82°, 855 MB, 4:02PM,” and “SUNNY,” which were all correct.

     Sol smiled and breathed a quiet snort. He set the device gently on the windowsill, then turned to his other boxes.

     In one, he found his mother’s old scientific treatise, yellowed and tattered. A talented scientist, Sol and Connie’s mother had traveled many years before to study warming in the Antarctic. There she’d made a discovery of great importance: The ice shelf was melting at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, she discovered this while standing on the ice shelf, which, as predicted, melted and fell into the ocean. She was never heard from again. Though her results, radioed in, did survive and were hailed by the scientific world.

     Sol spent a few minutes paging through his mother’s work, then his eyes fell on the thing that lay below it, a plaque that his sister, Connie, had given him last spring. The plaque read: MANY OF LIFE’S FAILURES ARE PEOPLE WHO DID NOT REALIZE HOW CLOSE THEY WERE TO SUCCESS WHEN THEY GAVE UP—THOMAS EDISON. He turned the plaque facedown and placed it in a spare box with some old books.

     After some time he confronted one unlabeled box, all taped up, which he didn’t open. Instead, he pushed it into the farthest reaches of his new closet, as if he never wanted to see it again.

Then he went out of the bedroom to see how the rest of the moving was going and what his younger sister was up to.

     Connie was very different from her brother. She was outside the two-story apartment building at that moment beside the moving truck. She’d climbed onto her family’s sofa as it was being picked up by two of the movers. So that the movers carried both the sofa and Connie across the lawn and into the small building, with Connie sitting up very queenlike and slowly waving, first left and then right, to an imaginary audience of onlookers. Those onlookers were, in her mind, watching her brilliant and important entrance being carried into her new home. In the hallway outside the apartment, one neighbor did open her door to look out. Connie honored the neighbor with a wave and an elegant nod.

     To look at Connie enjoying herself that day, you would never have known that she was keeping a guilty secret from her brother. But then, you couldn’t tell how much she missed her old cat, Quantum, either, and she missed Quantum very much. It wasn’t that Connie didn’t feel sad about her cat, or guilty about the secret she kept from her brother. It’s just that she wasn’t one to mope.

     As to what she looked like, Connie was spry and flexible. She had very short hair and big ears that stuck out on either side of her small head, possibly made like that to let certain comments pass quickly into one and out the other, spending as little time as possible in between. Comments, for instance, like her father’s outburst when the movers carried not just the sofa into the apartment but Connie too.

     “Connie! Get off that couch this instant!” Mr. Blink said. Mrs. Blink—who had married Sol and Connie’s father just before the move—looked up from unpacking and shook her head in amazement.

     Connie was the tiniest bit slow in responding to her father’s order, though. So that she slid off the sofa just after the movers put it down, completing her grand ride in style.

     Sol was coming out of the bedroom then and saw that his father and stepmother were upset. He ducked into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of ice water—it was very hot that Monday—then came out and said, “Connie, want to go to the park?”

     Connie nodded.

     “Dad, can we go?” he asked.

     “Anything that gets you out of here,” Mr. Blink answered, “is fine with me.”

     Sol and Connie found a Frisbee and a tennis ball in one of the boxes lying in the living room. Before they left, Sol saw his glass of ice water, now mostly ice, on the counter and had the idea to teach Connie something.

     “Come look at this.” He took her into the kitchen, poured some more water into the glass, and added a couple more ice cubes. “I’m going to mark the level of the water.” He found some masking tape and used that to do it. “Now, when we get back and the ice has melted, will the water be higher than it is now, or lower?”

     “Higher,” Connie said.


     “Because when the ice melts, there’ll be more water, so the water will go up.”

     “Are you sure?”


     “Are you willing to bet on it? Do you have any money?”

     Connie checked. “Three dollars.”

     “Will you bet the three dollars?”

     “Sure, I’ll bet you three dollars the water’ll be higher,” she said stubbornly. “What do you say? You say it’ll be lower?”

     “Nope. I say it will be in exactly the same place after the ice melts. Want to take back your bet?”

     “No!” Connie said, not one to give in. Connie also wasn’t one to lose a bet, though, especially if it involved her own money. So she made sure to sneak back, as she and her brother were leaving, to pour just a little more water into the glass. Then she caught up with Sol. She suspected that he knew more about this scientific matter than she did. But he didn’t know enough to win three dollars from her. Of that she was certain.

Excerpted from The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan.

Copyright © 2009 by Keith McGowan.

Published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

KEITH MCGOWAN has worked most of his life as an educator. He helped run an elementary after school program and day camp, taught mathematics and science, volunteered for a year as a teacher in Haiti, and tutored students who were unable to attend school full time. An avid traveler, Keith began writing The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children, in Himachal Pradesh, India, staring at the Himalayan mountains, and continued working on it in Boston, New Orleans, and Chicago, and Vienna, Austria, where he now lives with his wife. The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children is his first novel for children.
YOKO TANAKA is the illustrator of several books, including Sparrow Girl. She lives in Thailand.

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The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Mattie604 More than 1 year ago
I am 12 years old, and I read really fast. This book, which was about 180 pages, was an easy read. It was most definitely for elementary schoolers, probably for advanced third-graders or reculant nine-year olds. However, I myself enjoyed the book even though I¿m reading books by Lois Lowry and Elie Wiesel now. The novel is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, set in present times. It follows the kid genius Solomon ¿Sol¿ Blink and his little sister, Constance ¿Connie¿ after they move to the town of Schoenberg. It is revealed in the first few pages that Fay Holaderry, their new next-door neighbor, is the child-eating witch from the story. There are many quirks to the story that make it different from the rest- such as the disappearance of both their parents, one an uncovered victim, why Mrs. Holaderry¿s dog carries a human bone around with him, the story of how come their father abandoned them in a vacant parking lot, and their roots to the old witch and savior also known as the manager of the local pet store. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It is most definitely appropriate for children, being that the story is based on a tale kindergarteners learn of during story time. It has much a more advanced level than the story, though, also being easy to understand and having clear dialogue. This book was one of those books that taught you to think before you trust anyone, perfect for a little kid trying to understand the importance of ¿Stranger Danger.¿ I would definitely recommend this book because it is a chilling, thrilling, must-read!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My daughter had already read this book at school and insisted on getting it for her nook so she would be able to read it anytime. She is an avid reader and really enjoys fantasy books and authors who are descriptive so that she can get a good picture of who the characters are.
Elizabeth Moeck More than 1 year ago
A really good book. I couldnt pu it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Now i know where my brother went ... just kidding!!!
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One of the best stories
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