Roald Dahl meets Eva Ibbotson in this hilarious middle grade debut perfect for reading aloud
Rupert Campbell is fascinated by the witches who live nearby. He dreams of broomstick tours and souvenir potions, but Rupert’s mother forbids him from even looking at that part of town. The closest he can get to a witchy experience is sitting in class with his awful teacher Mrs. Frabbleknacker, who smells like bellybutton lint and forbids Rupert’s classmates from talking to each other before, during, and after class. So when he sees an ad to become a witch’s apprentice, Rupert simply can’t resist applying.
But Witchling Two isn’t exactly what Rupert expected. With a hankering for lollipops and the magical aptitude of a toad, she needs all the help she can get to pass her exams and become a full-fledged witch. She’s determined to help Rupert stand up to dreadful Mrs. Frabbleknacker too, but the witchling's magic will be as useful as a clump of seaweed unless Rupert can figure out a way to help her improve her spellcasting—and fast!
About the Author
Lauren Magaziner recently graduated from Hamilton College. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Only Thing Worse Than Witches is her first book.
Read an Excerpt
The Worst Assignment Ever
RUPERT WAS DOWN IN THE DUMPS. LITERALLY.
The garbage from Gliverstoll’s town dump sloshed around his ankles, and piles and piles of trash extended as far as he could see. Rupert reached forward to peel something slimy off a bicycle handle, all the while lamenting his horrible luck. Why did he have to be in Class B with the dreadful Mrs. Frabbleknacker? Everyone in Class A had Miss Snugglybuns—and she was supposedly the nicest, most wonderful teacher who ever lived. Rupert heard that Miss Snugglybuns baked her students a four-layer cake every single day. And during science class, she brought in a big lamp and a watering can to help her class make rainbows.
But no. Rupert was stuck with Mrs. Frabbleknacker, who thought that the best way to teach waste management was to make her science class find a paper clip buried somewhere in the town dump.
Rupert grumbled under his breath as he sunk his hands into a brown pile that looked suspiciously like poo. Mrs. Frabbleknacker, he thought, is the worst person I have ever met. It wasn’t the first time Rupert thought this, and he was sure it wouldn’t be the last. He hated her with every cell in his body, with every bacteria now crawling on his skin. Because Mrs. Frabbleknacker was:
1. Extremely mean. Once when Allison Gormley passed a note to Kaleigh Brown, Mrs. Frabbleknacker made them both stand on their heads for the entire class period. When they finally turned right side up, their faces were purple and their words came out backward. (“I LEEF LUFWA!” said Allison. “EM OOT!” said Kaleigh.) It took them a whole week to learn how to speak normally again.
2. Extremely scary. She was the scariest-looking adult that Rupert had ever seen. She was tall, thin, and hunched, like a coat rack that didn’t know how to stand up straight. Mrs. Frabbleknacker had a very knobbly, criggly nose that twisted off in a thousand different directions. She also had a long, spindly tongue that she liked to stick out at the children in her class. Her hair was dark and straight and as rigid as cardboard. She had pale skin as wrinkly as tinfoil and as clammy as spit. Whenever she clomped past Rupert’s desk, he caught the faint scent of belly- button lint, and her breath always smelled like mushy bananas.
3. Extremely strange. While the other fifth-grade class got to keep frogs as pets, Mrs. Frabbleknacker made her class dissect their frogs. Rupert’s class had to carefully pull out the organs and put them into buckets for each different frog part. Rupert’s hand had trembled as he pulled the tiny frog heart away from the tiny frog lung. And he tried desperately not to poke through the tiny frog stomach. When the day was done, Mrs. Frabbleknacker had collected twenty-six hearts, intestines, stomachs, livers, and tongues. She had twice as many eyes and lungs, and four times as many legs—all in their respective buckets. Rupert saw her loading the buckets of frog parts into her trunk after school, and he couldn’t help but imagine a framed collection of frog guts hanging on Mrs. Frabbleknacker’s walls.
4. Extremely dangerous. Mrs. Frabbleknacker had a temper like a hurricane, especially when it came to the witches. She always talked about how angry the witches made her, and how much she loathed certain ones. And once, when Hal Porter mentioned the Fairfoul Witch in her class, Mrs. Frabbleknacker turned red, picked Hal up by the scruff of his shirt, and tossed him out of the classroom.
Rupert hated her all the time, but he hated her most of all at this very moment as he dug his hands through sludge to find a stupid paper clip.
“This gives a whole new meaning to needle in a haystack, doesn’t it?” said poor, brave Bruno Gopp as he walked over to where Rupert and Kaleigh were silently digging through trash. Bruno was a boy in Rupert’s class, and Rupert thought that he was almost too brave for his own good—he actually volunteered to answer questions Mrs. Frabbleknacker asked.
“Shhhh!” Kaleigh snapped. “You don’twant her to catch us talking. You saw what she did to me and Allison.”
“Aw, I’m not scared of her.”
“You should be,” Kaleigh whispered. “Did you hear what happened to her husband?”
“Who’s crazy enough to marry her?” Bruno said, a bit too loudly.
Kaleigh clamped a hand over his mouth. “Shhhh!”
“What happened to her husband?” Rupert asked.
Kaleigh dropped her voice so low that Rupert could hardly hear her. “No one knows.”
“Maybe she killed him,” Bruno said.
“Maybe she keeps him locked in the basement and feeds him through a hole in the wall,” Rupert suggested.
“I don’t think she’s really married,” Kaleigh whispered. “She’s probably just faking it.” Bruno snorted, and Kaleigh hushed him again. “Shush, Bruno!”
“Kaleigh’s right. We shouldn’t talk,” Rupert said. “We need to focus on finding the paper clip, already. At least whoever finds the paper clip gets to go home—”
“But what about the rest of us?” Bruno asked. “Do we have to stay here all night?”
“Maybe,” Rupert said. “But I’d rather someone go home than no one.”
Bruno thought about this for a moment and sighed. “When I get home, I’m going to eat a hot dog.”
“I’m going to take a bath,” Kaleigh volunteered.
“I’m going to lock myself in my room and demand to be homeschooled,” Rupert said.
“And I’m going to drop-kick three naughty children so hard, you’ll land on the witches’ doorstep, and I’ll let them tear you to pieces,” Mrs. Frabbleknacker snarled from behind them.
Rupert closed his eyes, wishing that Mrs. Frabbleknacker actually would kick him to the witches’ doorstep. Anything would be better than this.
HOURS LATER, RUPERT WALKED HOME FROM THE dump, dripping a trail of brown sludge in his wake. Still, even though he was sopping wet and disturbingly slimy, his spirits cheered as he walked through his town.
Rupert had always loved Gliverstoll. His town was built into a rocky mountain nestled by the ocean. Most of the hustle and bustle of Gliverstoll took place in the shops around Main Beach. Rupert’s house, though, was at the tippy-top of the mountain, quite far away from the beach. The dump was close to the bottom, so Rupert had a long way home, zigzagging up the roads that wound around the mountain.
Rupert could tell from the dusky sun that it was already pretty late. He figured that his mother would be at home by now, but he quickly peeked inside the quilt shop—where she worked—anyway.
Mrs. Marmalin, his mom’s boss, was sweeping up the shop with a broom. Rupert tried the door, but it was locked—so he ended up knocking until she noticed he was outside.
“Rupert!” she said when she opened the door. She gracefully wiped her hands on her quilted apron and adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses as she looked at him. “What are you doing out so late? And by yourself, too!”
“I’m coming from the dump,” Rupert said. “My teacher made us dig for a paper clip.”
Mrs. Marmalin laughed. “Of course, dear. Of course,” she said, as though Rupert was making the whole thing up.
Rupert looked around the dimly lit store. “Is my mom here?”
“She went home hours ago, poor thing. Spooked by a witch!”
“A witch?” Rupert said.
“One of the witches walked into our shop today and demanded that we sell her one of our finest quilts at a price much less than it was worth. When I refused, of course, she went on a rampage. A terribly nasty temper.”
“My mom left after that?”
“Oh, yes, she was terribly skittish. She said that she needed to lie down, and she looked so pale that I couldn’t refuse. I wish I could have closed up shop and taken a breather myself, but these quilts don’t sell themselves.”
“Thank you! Have a good night!” he said politely, and he backed out of her store.
Rupert walked to the end of Druscle Close and started up one of the curvy roads that led up the mountain. All the while, he thought about his mother running home from the quilting shop. He was surprised that she went home early—out of her three jobs, her sales work at the quilting store was his mother’s absolute favorite. His mother loved to quilt, and she quilted all of the bedspreads and drapes in their house. It was her dream to make the longest quilt in the world.
Her second job was as an ice-cream taster at the local ice-cream store. The makers of the ice cream could not test their own flavors because, ironically, Mr. and Mrs. Gummyum both had diabetes from eating too much of their own ice cream. So his mother got to taste all of their innovative flavors, like Nutty Butter Gumdrop, Sugar Salt, and Bologna Macaroni (which was their most popular flavor).
Her third job was a fortune-cookie writer. Her work for that had to be so secret that she signed fifteen contracts, swearing confidentiality. Rupert wasn’t allowed to tell anyone either. In fact, he wasn’t even supposed to know. It was like working as a spy—whenever his mother turned up for work, she had to go through five full-body scans, just to make sure that she didn’t bring any microphones, telephones, cameras, or recording devices with her.
Despite all the secrecy, his mother enjoyed writing fortunes and often came home with stacks of fortune cookies that she brought to show Rupert. On those days, Rupert and his mother would crack mountain loads of fortune cookies in the kitchen.
Generally, Rupert’s favorite fortunes were the ones that were very cryptic. His mom wrote one once that said The mug is under the sofa. Rupert loved that one. Sometimes he repeated it over and over again in his head. He had asked his mother where she got the inspiration to write something so fascinating, but she had said that that fortune was just a mistake. She was trying to direct her supervisors as to where she put her coffee cup, and the voice-recording program mistook that as a fortune. The machine had already printed two hundred copies before his mother realized what had gone wrong. Rupert was very disappointed to hear that, but he didn’t tell her because she was most proud of her non-accidental fortunes.
He cringed as he thought about some of his mother’s most prized work:
Tomorrow is a bright sunshiny day. Embrace it with bright sunshiny smiles.
(Rupert thought that one was a little cheesy.)
You are very loved.
(Rupert thought that one was even cheesier.)
You are unique and beautiful just the way you are.
(Rupert thought that one was the cheesiest.)
Okay, so his mother wasn’t very good at her third job, but it was difficult for her to support him on her own, so Rupert did his best to be encouraging.
Rupert turned around a sharp bend in the road. He began to climb a set of steep and narrow stairs, a shortcut that led straight home. He fantasized about how he’d walk through the foyer. His mother would give him a hug and tell him that he’d never have to go back to Mrs. Frabbleknacker’s class ever again if he didn’t want to.
Of course, that would never happen. More likely, she would be upset that he was out and about near the witchy parts of town so close to dusk.
But Rupert knew he wasn’t the only one who was interested in the witches. Last year, Kaleigh came into school on her tenth birthday proudly wearing a brooch that she had gotten from a witch shop. Hal’s family loved to walk through the witchy streets; he talked about it all the time. Kyle went on a broomstick ride above Gliverstoll with his younger brother in the beginning of the year. Bruno claimed that his mother had been severely allergic to nuts, dairy, gluten, strawberries, soy, eggs, seafood, legumes, latex, dust mites, and pollen, but the witches sold her potions that cured all her allergies right up. And Allison swore that her mother’s rose garden blossomed because of all the care the witches took in the town.
But when Rupert tried to tell his mother all the nice things his friends had said about the witches, she refused to listen. In fact, every time Rupert mentioned the witches, his mother grimaced and reminded him to stay far, far away from the witches.
But he always wondered: What was the point of living in one of the only witch towns left if he couldn’t ever see a witch?
The Great and Terrible Things About Mothers
THE GREAT THING ABOUT MOTHERS IS THAT THEY are always there to comfort you and clean you when you come home reeking of sewage.
The Terrible Thing About Mothers is that they never believe you when you try to tell them about evil teachers who make you dig in garbage for a paper clip.
“Oh, what a wild imagination,” they say. “Now stop playing in trash. It’s dirty. There are germs. . . .” And then they drone on and on for hours about tiny bacteria and microorganisms and the benefits of antibacterial soap.
Rupert frowned as he listened to his mother’s germ rant.
After the stern talking-to, Rupert’s mother ushered him into the tub and shoved him under the water, clothes and all. Then she took a washcloth and scrubbed his arms where the mud caked his skin.
“Mom,” Rupert said. “I’m eleven years old. I can do it myself.”
His mother tsked. That was not a good sign.
“Rupert Archibald Campbell, obviously you don’t make good choices if you decided that the best way to spend your afternoon was rolling around in the dirt like a pig.”
“It wasn’t my choice—Mrs. Frabbleknacker made me do it.”
His mother shook her head disapprovingly. “Not this nonsense again.”
“It’s not nonsense, Mom!” Rupert insisted. “She’s really evil. Super evil.”
“The only thing that’s super evil around here is your stench. Now, you need to take responsibility for your own actions.”
“But Mrs. Frabbleknacker hid a paper clip in a dump, and she wouldn’t let us leave until someone found it!”
His mother laughed. “Oh, Rupert, you have the wildest imagination. Sometimes I wonder where you come up with such stories.”
Rupert sunk down in the tub in defeat. He started thinking about a conversation he’d had with Allison Gormley, Kyle Mason-Reed, and Hal Porter a few months ago, back when Mrs. Frabbleknacker let her students talk to each other. Hal and Allison had mentioned that their parents wouldn’t believe them when they tried to tell them about Mrs. Frabbleknacker’s horrible lessons. Their parents had just laughed, too—and then patted them on their heads and sent them outside to play. Why was it so hard to get their parents to believe them? There must be some universal, understood code among all parents that makes them think their kids are always making up stories or telling jokes, Rupert thought.
“Don’t worry,” his mother said. “I’m almost done with you. I just want to get this muck off your arms, now that I’ve started scrubbing. Then I promise I’ll leave you alone. What do you want for dinner—pizza? I’ll even let you eat in the tub.” She winked at him.
“I think I’ll take it in my room, please,” Rupert said. He didn’t want to think about dropping a slice of pizza in the grimy bathwater, but his mind instantly went there. He knew that if Mrs. Frabbleknacker were here, she would make him eat the bathwater pizza, and that was an even worse thought.
“I can give you microwavable pizza, microwavable lasagna, microwavable quesadillas, microwavable popcorn, microwavable rice, microwavable chocolate soufflé, microwavable cheese, microwavable toast, or microwavable cheese on toast. Which do you prefer?”
Rupert groaned. “Does everything in our house have to be microwavable?”
“Oh, Rupert, you know I’m too exhausted to cook by the time I get home from work.”
“So, how was work today?”
Rupert’s mother hummed absently. “The day was lovely. Except . . . ” She froze and looked at nothing in particular with glazed, distant eyes. “Mrs. Marmalin had to chase a witch out of the quilting shop with a broom.”
Rupert nodded. “I ran into Mrs. Marmalin on the way up here. She told me.” His mother wrung out the dirty washcloth in the sink. “What did the witch look like? What did she say? Did she do any spells? Did she hex you?”
His mother laughed.
“I just can’t believe you actually met a witch. I mean—I’ve obviously seen the pack flying around Gliverstoll, but I’ve never talked to one!”
“And let’s hope you never have to,” his mother said with a shudder. “Remember what I said about the witches, Rupert. This one in particular had a downright dreadful temper. She kept calling herself the ‘Queen of the Sea,’ and threatened to slap us with a dead fish.”
“Cool! Then what happened?”
“Rupert!” his mother said, in a scolding sort of voice. “I will not indulge your curiosity! I’ve told you a thousand times: stay away from the witches—”
“They are dangerous! And horrible! And terrible!”
“Why? What’s wrong with them?”
“Wisdom is just another word for obedience,” his mother said, reciting a fortune cookie.
“Didn’t you tell me last week that another word for genius is obsession?”
Rupert folded his arms. “All right, all right. I’ll stay away from the witches.”
There was a long pause, and Rupert hoped his mother had let the subject drop.
His mother finally put the grimy washcloth on the bathroom floor and stood up. “I suppose that’s as good as I’m going to get. I’m leaving so you can take a real bath.” His mother turned to leave the bathroom, but then she paused with her hand on the doorknob. “Rupert, why don’t I see any of your friends around the house anymore? Did something happen? Are you fighting?”
Rupert frowned. Now that his mother mentioned it, the loneliness seemed real. And it all boiled down to Mrs. Frabbleknacker. She was the horrible, rotten reason that none of them talked to him anymore—because she forbid them to talk before class, she forbid them to talk duringclass, and she forbid them to talk after class.
“Everything’s fine,” Rupert lied. “We’re just really busy, now that we’re in fifth grade.”
His mother sniffled. “My little boy is growing up!” And with the soft creak of the closing door, she was gone.
Rupert watched the dirt swirl around in the bathwater. Dirt and grime. Grime and dirt. Rupert churned it with his finger. When he got bored, he hung his body over the side of the bathtub, thinking about what had happened. Millie Michaels found the paper clip—but then Mrs. Frabbleknacker made her stay while the rest of the class got to go. Poor Millie. She thought she had won the lottery, only to have the rules changed.
Rupert leaned forward out of the bathtub, accidentally dripping water everywhere as he grabbed the newspaper that was sitting in the rack beside the toilet. He flipped right to the comics section for a bit of cheering up, but on the adjacent page, a notice in the classified section caught his eye:
One apprentice. Tasks include testing potions and other things. Skill sets for applicants should include intelligence and other things. Applicants should be children preferably. Don’t worry—will not make Toecorn out of you (this witch finds Toecorn much less appetizing than Knuckle Soup). Rabbits need not apply.
Rupert tore the article out of the paper. Then he folded it and placed it in the sole of his shoe.
A witch’s apprentice. As he thought about the job, excitement bubbled in his stomach (or maybe that was the dump sludge finally catching up with him).
This was perfect. Beyond perfect. The most perfectly perfectest perfecty thing to ever fall beside Rupert’s toilet.
ON SATURDAY—AFTER RUPERT’S MOTHER LEFT for work—Rupert changed into his very best suit and tie for his job interview. He was to meet the witch in Digglydare Close, a stuffy alleyway at sea level.
As Rupert left his house, he was thinking about how far up the mountain he lived. On the one hand, Rupert loved the beautiful view of the ocean from his window, but on the other hand, Main Beach was quite a hike down the hill. Today, Rupert wasn’t particularly excited to schlep all the way to Digglydare Close, which was right off Main Beach.
Rupert crossed the street diagonally to get to the top of the staircase that cut through the town and led all the way down the hill. The steps were quite narrow, winding, and steep, and Rupert had to hold onto the broken stone walls of the stairs all the way down. Even climbing down the steps was a workout, and when Rupert finally reached the Main Beach at the bottom, he wiped his sweaty forehead with his sleeve.
He stared at the Main Beach, a small area of grainy sand that connected to the endless ocean. The water glowed a neon shade of blue, and the smell of the salty seawater was so strong that Rupert could almost taste it. He had heard tourists complain about the stench, but this fishy tang smelled like home to him.
Rupert walked through the beach to the shops that lined the bottom of the rocky hill. A few local shopkeepers waved in Rupert’s direction, and Mrs. Gummyum, the owner of the ice-cream store where his mother worked, called out to him.
“Rupert!” she said, waddling over to him. “Where’s our favorite ice-cream taster today?”
“You mean Mom? She’s working at the . . .” he was about to spill his mother’s fortune-cookie secret. “Working on learning how to cook,” he said, which was a terribly unconvincing lie to anyone who knew his mother at all.
“Cook?” Mrs. Gummyum said. “Cook! Why does she need to cook when she can eat all of my ice-cream flavors? She’s not trying to make ice cream, is she? Not that we couldn’t handle a competing store—”
“Mom’s not cooking ice cream, Mrs. Gummyum,” Rupert reassured her. “She’s making vegetables.”
“Vegetables? Who needs vegetables? Unless you’re making spinach and artichoke ice cream, the only vegetable ice cream around. Though lately I’ve been dreaming of carrot ice cream . . . perhaps I should try that . . .”
“She’s cooking vegetables for my health. I’m a growing boy,” he said, which is something that every adult had said to him for as long as he could remember. “But anyway, Mrs. Gummyum, I have to go. I’m late!”
“Late for what? Late—oh, that gives me a marvelous idea! What do you think of Time-of-the-Day Ice Cream, Rupert? Like Day-of-the-Week Undergarments, only much better. There’ll be an ice cream for every hour, minute, and second. Think about it—that’s at least five thousand new ice creams, all rolled into one idea.”
“Sorry! Truly sorry—gotta run!” Rupert ran off before he could get caught in another one of her long-winded ice-cream suggestions.
Rupert looked at his watch as he jogged through the town—his delay with Mrs. Gummyum left him two minutes late, and he dashed past a store of knickknacks, the quilting store, a candy store, and a jack-in-the-box emporium. At the very end of the strip, Rupert passed Cats, Rats, Bats, and Hats: A Witch’s Top Shopand Broomstick Tours: Showing You Gliverstoll on the Fly, two of the witchy businesses in Gliverstoll that generated money and tourists for the town.
At last, Rupert finally arrived at Digglydare Close, and he peered into the shadowy street. He saw no one.
Maybe the witch had decided she didn’t want an apprentice after all. Maybe he would never find her—maybe he would never be able to talk to anyone ever again.
Excerpted from "The Only Thing Worse Than Witches"
Copyright © 2014 Lauren Magaziner.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
• "Fifth-grader Rupert Campbell lives in a world that combines Roald Dahl’s Witches and Louis Sachar’s Wayside School. Readers will banish themselves from the ordinary world to finish this book in a flash." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"A fun, frothy story that will, well, charm its readers."Publishers Weekly
"Ideal for middle-grade readers who love Roald Dahl’s Matilda and enjoy humor with their fantasy, this debut novel is madcap and fantastical. It’s the perfect thing for kids not quite ready for Diane Duane or Madeleine L’Engle." Booklist
"Eva Ibbotson fans will appreciate the quirky humor." BCCB
"A hilarious, light-hearted debut!" Library Media Connection