The Witch Family

The Witch Family

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780152026103
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/28/2000
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 660,470
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Eleanor Estes (1906-1988) grew up in West Haven, Connecticut, which she renamed Cranbury for her classic stories about the Moffat and Pye families. A children’s librarian for many years, she launched her writing career with the publication of The Moffats in 1941. Two of her outstanding books about the Moffats—Rufus M. and The Middle Moffat—were awarded Newbery Honors, as was her short novel The Hundred Dresses. She won the Newbery Medal for Ginger Pye.

Read an Excerpt


Old Witch, Banished

One day, Old Witch, the head witch of all the witches, was banished. Amy, just an ordinary real girl, not a witch, said Old Witch would have to go away. So, Old Witch had to go. Instead of living in the briers and the brambles, the caves and the heaths, instead of flying around on her broomstick wherever she wanted, chanting runes, doing abracadabras, casting spells and hurly-burlies, this great-great (multiply the "great" by about one hundred and you have some idea of how old she was) old grandmother Old Witch had to go and live on the top of an awful, high, lonely, bare, bleak, and barren glass hill! And at first, she had to live in the witch house up on that hill all alone because at first there was no witch family — there was just herself.

She had to go and live on the bare glass hill because Amy, appalled at the wickedness of the old witch, had said she must. Amy was almost seven, and she had a friend, Clarissa, who was almost seven too. They both had blond hair that hung straight and long, and they both had blue eyes. Amy's blond hair was the color of moonlight. Clarissa's was the color of sunlight. They might have been sisters, they looked so much alike. But they were not sisters. They were best friends, and they were both in the same class in Jasper School.

They were both brave girls. Clarissa could go all the way to the library alone. And although Amy did not yet go to the library alone, she was a brave girl too, for she did not mind booster shots. Moreover, it was she who had the bravery to think it up and say, "Go!" to the mean old wicked old witch.

Amy and Clarissa lived three doors apart on a beautiful street named Garden Lane. Ginkgo trees, meeting high overhead, lined the street on both sides. This street was in the city of Washington, D.C. Clarissa's house was a small brick one painted light pink. It had a square front porch, where she and Amy, on hot days, sometimes had lunch, usually long "noodoos"— a name that Clarissa had long ago, when she was quite small, given to spaghetti, a name that in Clarissa's family, and in Amy's too, had stuck through the years. Or sometimes Amy and Clarissa just sat there on the front porch and ate popsicles and talked and watched the passersby.

But usually they played in Amy's house. Amy's house was a high red brick one. In front of it there was a tall and graceful ginkgo tree whose roots made the worn red bricks of the sidewalk bulge and whose branches fanned the sky. The ginkgo tree has little leaves shaped like fans that Amy and Clarissa liked to press and give to their dolls. The fruit of this tree is orange, but it is not good for eating. It has an odd fragrance that grownups do not like but that children do not mind, for it makes them think of fall and Halloween.

Near Amy's front stoop there was a small fir tree to which Amy had tied a fragile rope swing. It was a very little swing, but it was strong enough for Amy and Clarissa, each one of these girls weighing only thirty-eight pounds so far. Frequently, while Amy was at Jasper School, Bear or the doll, Patricia, was allowed to sit in this swing all morning. And swinging there on summer days, Amy or Clarissa could keep track of the bees that nested in the bare ground of the yard where the ivy did not grow.

But now it was wintertime. There were no bees in the front yard to watch, though there was one ancient hoary bee — it was hard to tell whether he was dead or alive — in a sunny corner of the backyard. This was a bumblebee.

Amy and Clarissa always had a great deal to do. They both loved to draw pictures, and, seated opposite each other at Amy's little yellow table in her mother's big front bedroom, high up behind the ginkgo tree, they were drawing pictures now, pictures of witches.

It was cold late February, not Halloween. But at lunchtime, while Amy was eating her lamb chop, and Clarissa was standing by watching her eat it bite by bite — she had already had her long "noodoos" — Amy's mother had told a story about Old Witch. Summer, spring, winter, fall, Amy loved to hear stories about Old Witch. "One day, Old Witch ..." Mama always began.

And that was the way she had begun today, and had then told an awful, though not too awful, story about Old Witch, with many interruptions and suggestions from Amy.

That is why now, after lunch, Amy and Clarissa, having Old Witch very much on their minds, happened to be drawing pictures of her.

"Go, go, go! To the glass hill, go!" Amy sang as she drew. She looked closely at her picture for a moment. "You go!" she repeated firmly. "And never come back!" she said with finality as she banished Old Witch.

"Go," echoed Clarissa. "To the glass hill, go!"

"Don't put any flowers on it!" said Amy. "Nothing grows on this awful bare glass hill. It is all glass, just plain glass. Up there there are no trees, no flowers, no violets. There is plain nothing."

"Nothing," said Clarissa, chewing the end of her crayon thoughtfully.

"The only food that Old Witch can eat is what she can get by magic," declared Amy. "And her magic will not work very well on this shiny place. You know, witch magic works best in dark and gloom. And she can't have any little rabbits to eat at all. You know that rabbits are what she loves best to eat? Don't you, Clarissa?"

"Oh, yes," said Clarissa.

"She can have only herbs to eat," said Amy.

"Yes," said Clarissa. "Herb soup morning, noon, and night."

"And the only thing that she can take with her is Old Tom, the awful old black cat, the real head witch cat," declared Amy, going on with the banishment orders. "Oh, yes, and her awful old broomstick. And that's all!"

At first Amy and Clarissa felt pleased over the banishment of the mean old witch. "I banquished her," said Amy proudly. Sometimes Amy joined two words together, creating one new word. Here, banish and vanquish had become "banquish." "I banquished her," she said. Then she became thoughtful. Doubt swept over her. "It is all right not to have wicked Old Witch most of the year," she thought. "But what about Halloween?"

"Clarissa," she said, "what use is Halloween without the real, right, regular old witch?"

Clarissa clasped her head between her hands, rolled her eyes, and said, "No good!"

"It would be like Christmas without Santa Claus," said Amy.

"And Easter without the Bunny," said Clarissa.

"Same thing," said Amy. "I have to change the order," she said. "Change it to be that Old Witch must stay on top of the glass hill always except for Halloween. She can come down for Halloween. No other time."

"Yes," said Clarissa.

"On Halloween she can ride her broomstick down the glass hill instead of just around the top of it. But only on that one night, can't she, Clarissa?" "OK," said Clarissa.

"If," said Amy, in an ominous voice, "she can learn to be good, that is."

"Yes, of course," said Clarissa.

"Not eat any little rabbits."

"No," said Clarissa.

"Not try to come down off the glass hill at any other time at all," said Amy.

"No," said Clarissa.

"You mean, 'yes,'" said Amy.

"Yes," said Clarissa, drawing.

After this change of rule had been decided upon, Amy and Clarissa put away their drawings of witches and went outdoors to the square little backyard. Though the backyard was tiny, still it was big enough to hold Amy's jungle gym with its two swings and glider.

Today was a crisp and sunny day. In summer and in winter the backyard was shaded by a high and lovely linden tree in the corner of the backyard of the house next door, belonging to Polly and Christopher Knapp. Polly Knapp was eight, and she was Amy's and Clarissa's next best friend. Polly let Amy and Clarissa climb her high linden tree in her yard whenever they liked. And Polly, in turn, could swing on Amy's swings and glide on her glider whenever she liked. But she must not go too high and she must never swing on the fragile rope swing in the little fir tree in the front yard because she weighed forty-seven pounds. Neither could Christopher, who was nine, because he weighted sixty-five pounds.

Clarissa got into one of the swings now and started to swing. Amy stood aside for a moment, thinking. In the sunny corner of the yard where Amy was standing dwelled the huge, old, hoary, weather-beaten bumblebee. Amy had discovered him just a few days ago. She had told her father about him. "What is a good name for a bumblebee?" she'd asked.

"Malachi," her father had answered without a second thought. So Amy called the bumblebee Malachi.

There he was now, basking in the sunshine. Some might have thought that he was dead, for he never moved and summer was gone. But Amy knew that Malachi was just sleeping. "Bumblebees do sleep with their eyes open," she told Clarissa.

"Hello," said Amy to Malachi gently. He did not stir or wink an eye. So Amy swung herself onto the green board fence and up into Polly Knapp's linden tree.

Suddenly, dark clouds swept over the sun. "It must be Old Witch going," thought Amy. She looked down at Clarissa. "Did you hear a little thunder?" she asked.

"No," said Clarissa.

"I did. Just a little in the distance. You do not have to be afraid. Probably Old Witch is on her way. Tell her the change in the banquishment order," said Amy. "Tell her she can come down for Halloween! That's all."

Clarissa laughed gaily. She was not afraid of Old Witch. The wind was in her face and her hair whipped against her cheeks. "All right," she said. And, "Hey, wait a minute, Old Witch," she yelled bravely. "Amy says you can come down for Halloween. That's all!"

"Yes, yes! Just Halloween!" repeated Amy. Amy also felt quite brave, having heard herself spoken of as the one in charge. And besides, though there were no leaves at this time of year on the linden tree, she thought she might be invisible to the old witch.

Suddenly, from the dark clouds, a few drops of rain fell. Amy shivered. She thought she heard the rustling of Old Witch's black robes. She thought they brushed against her hair as Old Witch, enraged but truly invisible, steered her broomstick upward toward the glass hill, going where she had to go — up, up, and up the awful, bare, and faraway hill. Amy thought, too, that she heard the buzzing, foreboding sound of a bumblebee.

"Did you hear a bumblebee?" she asked Clarissa.

"No, I heard no bumblebee," said Clarissa.

The sun came out again, which proved that Old Witch had really gone. Wind and rain had stopped. Amy came back from the other side of the huge trunk of the linden tree where she had hidden herself in case Old Witch, out of revenge, should try to cast a spell on her. "Clarissa. Do you know what I am going to do?" she said. "I am going to write Old Witch a letter so she will understand not to come back at any time except Halloween. She might not have heard. You must always put things in writing; you know that, don't you?"

Amy loved to write letters. "I don't know why I like to write letters. I just do," she confided. Clarissa said she did not like to. She still owed her grandmother in Tangiers a letter from two Christmases ago. If she could only get it written! "Can't you write that thank-you letter?" That's what her mother said with a sigh several times a year.

Climbing down from the tree, Amy jumped into her yard. It was very sunny and warm now that Old Witch had gone. This was the sort of day that Malachi loved. Amy went over to say good-bye to him. But ah-h ... now, from his sunny corner, Malachi was gone!

Amy stood there, looking at the place where he used to live and musing. "I thought I heard a bumblebee," she thought. Supposing Old Witch should cast a spell on him?

"Do you think Old Witch would hurt Malachi, eat him, even? In some places people do eat bees," she said to Clarissa.

"Oh, no," said Clarissa. "She wants to be sure she can come down for Halloween, you know."

"Of course," said Amy.

They went in, took off their warm winter coats, and sat down again at Amy's little yellow table. Instead of drawing, this time Amy wrote the letter to Old Witch. When she did not know how to spell words, she made them up. She knew that made-up words would not matter to Old Witch, for witches are accustomed to doing everything backward and forward and backward again, and if there are too many or two few letters in a word, they do not care — unless they have to be in a spelling bee, of course.

"Now," said Amy, when she had finished. "Listen to this."

Clarissa tried to listen.

Amy read:

"Dear great-great-grandmother Old Witch,

You must be good. You must not be bad. You must go and live on the glass hill always. But if you will be good, you can come back on Halloween night. So, please be good!" (And then Amy signed the letter the way she signed all her letters.)

"I love you and you love me, Amy.

P.S. Did you take Malachi, the bumblebee? A."

When this letter was all tightly folded up, it was just a little wad of a note. Amy opened the middle window and put it on the sill. Right away, a red cardinal bird, handsome and sparkling in the winter sun, alighted on the sill. He took the little letter in his bill, and away he flew with it.

"Did you see that?" Amy asked excitedly. "Clarissa. Did you see that?"

"I did," said Clarissa.

"It would be as good as finding a letter in a bottle in the ocean to find a letter in a bird's bill. Don't you think so, Clarissa?" Amy said.

Clarissa nodded. Clarissa was apt not to think that things like notes in birds' bills were as remarkable as Amy did. She took events as they came, not questioning the usualness or the unusualness of them. But Amy was still wonderstruck. She leaned her arms on the windowsill and cupped her chin in her hands, and she watched the far distant red streak, the cardinal bird, as it flew over the houses across the street and then up, and up, and up, and away.

"Good-bye," called Amy from the window. "Don't lose it!" she said.

What a morning! Old Witch banished. Malachi gone. And a bird with a note in his bill. Exhausted, Amy lay down on the big bed. Clarissa put on the record, "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" She sat in Amy's little red rocker and listened, and rocked, and nodded.


Little Witch Girl

One day, Old Witch was rocking in her wicker rocker on the creaky front porch of the witch house. She was not happy, and she was brooding. She did not like it up here on this bare, bleak glass hill. When she stepped off the porch, she slipped. Her feet went out from under her, for the glass was like ice. She looked like a very bad ice skater, and Old Tom laughed at the silly sight she made trying to regain her balance. No one else would have laughed, for Old Witch, banished or not, might angrily have cast a spell. However, Old Tom would not have minded being cast in a spell. Though he was a witch cat, Tom was as curious about everything, including awful spells, as an ordinary cat.

"Tluck, tluck, thick," muttered Old Witch. "How dismal it is up here! All this sunshine glinting on the glass. No brambles, no briers! No wilderness to put a foot in! No swamps!" Old Witch pulled her peaked hat down over her eyes and sulked. She pined for the company of another witch, even though all other witches were of less importance than she.

"Oh, to glory be! It's terrible," she said to Old Tom. "Where is the rhyme and reason," she asked, "of being good all the time, as her instructed when her banquished me (she said "banished" the way Amy did), all by myself and with none to clap?"

"Nobby," Old Tom reminded her in a rusty, rasping voice. (Nobby was the real name of this famous old witch.) "I'm here," he said.

"I was referring to witches, not cats, however talented," Old Witch replied.

"Once I was a witch," thought Old Tom, cleaning a paw. "I am a graduated witch." But Old Tom did not remind Old Witch of the fact that witches turn into cats when they go into retirement. And pretending to doze, Tom turned his eyes to the other end of the porch where something, a bumblebee in hiding, sometimes engaged his attention.

Old Witch thought no more about Old Tom. Cats sometimes watch a speck of dust, or even nothing, for hours. "How dull!" thought Old Witch. But dull as life was on this awful glass hill, Old Witch had to bear it. She had to be good, not good in the way witches enjoy being good — that is in casting wicked spells and eating up little rabbits whenever they have the chance — but good in the way that real regular people are good — that is in not casting spells and not eating up little rabbits every minute. Though she drooled terribly for a taste of rabbit, her favorite food — rabbits and their painted eggs — she was good. She ate her herb soup daily, and she made no attempt to escape from this place of "banquishment." Otherwise, Amy said, she would not be able to have a hurly-burly even on Halloween!

For this difficult goodness, Old Witch received a reward. As she sat unhappily rocking, she got a second letter. The same beautiful red cardinal bird who had brought her the first letter brought this one too, tightly folded up in a wad in his bill. It, too, was from Amy, the banisher, on Garden Lane.


Excerpted from "The Witch Family"
by .
Copyright © 1960 Eleanor Estes.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
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.

Table of Contents

Old Witch, Banished
Little Witch Girl
Malachi, the Bumblebee
The Witch School
Little Witch Girl's Birthday Party
In a "Haunched" House
The Mermaid Lagoon
The Baby Witch
The Painting Field
Danger in the Painting Field
The Picnic at the Mermaid Lagoon
The Spelling Bee
The Great Night at Last
Halloween on Garden Lane
The Real Witch and the Pretend Witch
A Ride on a Broomstick
Malachi, to the Rescue

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The Witch Family 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Witch Family is about two 7-year-old best friends, Amy and Clarissa, who love to draw and hear stories about the Old Head Witch Nobby. One day, Amy courageously decides Old Witch is too wicked and must learn her lesson by being banished to the top of a dull, bare, glass hill. For company, she has three cats, a Little Witch Girl named Hannah, and a Weeny Witch Baby named Beebee. With a bit of magic, Amy and Clarissa earn their own lesson and discover life on the glass hill in Hannah's shoes. I liked this book because I enjoy all the fantasy. I especially admire Amy and Hannah's courage in this book. If you are a great fan and fantasy, I recommend this book for you!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this when I was a kid and I have a copy that I get out and read about once a year. It's such a fun story. Amy and Clarissa have their own way of speaking to each other, which is what my friends and I had when we were small. We also liked to draw pictures for the stories we told each other. It's fun to read it now because it takes me back to childhood.
Treeseed on LibraryThing 3 hours ago
Enough is enough! Old Witch is banished or "banquished" as seven year old Amy pronounces it. Amy and Clarissa are two little girls who are best friends and they are fascinated with all things magical, especially witches. They love to draw and they spend a lot of their time making drawing after drawing of witches. They first hear of Old Witch, who is the head of all the witches in the world, in stories that Amy's mother loves to tell them. Old Witch eats rabbits whole and dances hurly-burlies and casts wicked abracadabras and reads from a thick old book filled with magical runes. There's really no telling what evil thing she will do next so Amy banishes Old Witch to a remote and barren glass hill and forbids her to leave it. At first Amy allows Old Witch nothing but the few things she can create by magic in such a barren and bleak place like a rickety old house with a front porch, a rocking chair and a few herbs for dinner. Of course she has her broom and pointy black hat and her black cat, Old Tom. After all she is a witch. If she can learn to be good she can come down from the hill of glass on Halloween night and behave like a proper Old Witch and do lots of delightfully wicked things. If she does not mend her ways and follow the rules and stay on the glass hill then she will not be allowed to celebrate Halloween. It's that simple and because Amy is seven and because she says so, that is exactly what happens to Old Witch. Amy knows that she can't expect total goodness. What fun would Halloween be without Old Witch up to her usual tricks? The Witch Family is a delightful mixture of the real world where Amy and Clarissa live and the fantasy world of the witches. Everything that Amy and Clarissa put into their drawings becomes "real" in the witch world. They can even send letters back and forth between the two worlds and they know a red cardinal bird who is happy to carry the messages in his beak. They are not unkind though and they quickly realize that it must be very lonely for Old Witch up on that slippery glass hill so they allow her to abracadabra herself a companion. They draw a picture of Hannah, Little Witch Girl and she soon shows up atop the glass hill much to the delight of Old Witch. She is a good little witch and becomes friends with Amy and Clarissa. Old Witch is Hannah's gammer or grandmother. Eventually, a Weeny Witch baby named BeeBee joins them on the glass hill. They each have a black cat in the corresponding size. A Little Mermaid and a Baby Mermaid live in a grotto inside the glass hill and become their friends but they don't tell Old Witch about the mermaids because they know she would immediately start thinking about fishing poles. Of course Little Witch Girl has to fly her broom to Witch School every day so Amy and Clarissa also draw the other six witch students and the witch teacher and the classroom and all their school adventures. Now it is very hard to control a disobedient and crafty hag like Old Witch because her appetite for wickedness is so strong and luckily Amy is able to enlist the help of a sleepy, old bumblebee that she finds hibernating in her yard. This is no ordinary bumblebee. It is a spelling bee named Malachi. He speaks aloud by spelling out the words. Malachi protects Little Witch Girl and keeps his three bee eyes on Old Witch and keeps her in check...most of the time. Written in 1960, which at age 8 is when I originally read it, The Witch Family was and is one of my favorite books. The author, Eleanor Estes, has written many, many wonderful books for children including a popular (at least in my day) series about the Moffat Family that includes the delightful Rufus M. She received the Newbery Medal for Ginger Pye. This book is filled with creativity and fun on every single page. The illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, executed with pen and ink, are sprinkled liberally throughout the text and add greatly to the atmosphere and characterizations since they are so in sync with the vision of
momma2 on LibraryThing 3 hours ago
The kids enjoyed this one but it was not my favorite Eleanor Estes book. It was difficult to read aloud with the spelling bee and some of the babyish language the characters used. And the story was a little silly... a departure from the Moffats or Ginger Pye for sure.
lgray724 on LibraryThing 3 hours ago
One of my all-time favorite kids' books.
BooXO789 on LibraryThing 3 hours ago
I think the author was trying to really put me into the book.(Which she did) But like each chapter, she described something that made me want to read more!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this story immensely! I was sorry when it ended. If you like witches, mermaids and magic you should definitely read it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was really cute. I found a whole other side of witches.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yo peeps sould nott read this yo booky