Book Review: Space Witch By Don Freeman

Now it is time for a little vintage Halloween. I have heard about this book over the years, but had never seen a copy of it until recently. Some love it dearly and remember it fondly, but also remember it as scaring the pants off them as a kid. It is about a witch after all. And it is a witch who delights in frightening people and especially children. This is a classic Don Freeman, which might be surprising to some as he is best known for dear sweet Corduroy. Here is a funny, vintage, spooky story showing a different side of Freeman, but still containing his great illustration style. This is Space Witch by Don Freeman, 1959.

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Being from the 50s, this picture book is long. Best suited for the older children or those who want to read it themselves, but it is entertaining so many kids might sit for it. The story is about Tilly the witch who lives with her cat, Kit, on a craggy mountain peak. She has an urge to frighten creatures on other planets and sets out to build a spacecraft to carry out her plans.

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That picture there on the left would have finished this book for me as a kid, so know your kid and proceed with caution. As an adult, I can see the subtle humor in this book from the very beginning. I mean come on, a witch in a spacesuit and a spaceship. Some kids will eat this up, and many have I am told.

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Tilly builds a spaceship and dubs it the “Zoom Broom.” She coerces and tricks her reluctant cat to get aboard and off they go in search of some new creatures to terrorize. Things don’t go quite as planned and they find themselves lost, running out of magic fuel (who knew that was possible), and finally land on a spinning planet.

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In her glee, Tilly spies some odd little creatures with big heads and tiny feet scampering about, so she races to scare them. But the tables turn and just as she is about to leap out, Tilly gets a shock of her own. The group jump at her and shout “Trick or Treat!”

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Alas, in all the craziness of getting lost and whirling about, Tilly landed the Zoom Broom on Earth and happened upon Trick or Treaters. Once she recovers from her shock, she is delighted to know that it is still Halloween and she must get going to do her duty of frightening children. But, as it turns out, Tilly is tired and doesn’t care to frighten any more tonight, and her dear, terrorized cat agrees.

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Such an odd, clever, old vintage book. I wasn’t sure I would like it, but when something is remembered and discussed so fondly, you start to wonder about it yourself. I have a fascination for the space-obsessed eras gone by and this book does a great job adding that to make a subject I normally wouldn’t have enjoyed into something just plain comical. I feel like this is one of Freeman’s book that reveals how much of a grown-up little boy he actually was. The plot sounds so much like something I would imagine hearing from a 9-year-old as he concocted his own tale and doodles.

The illustrations are Don Freeman for sure. Two-color, as most illustrations in the 50s were, and the eerie blue second color was an excellent choice. Many would have gone for the traditional orange and black, but it certainly would not have worked. While Tilly appears quite creepy in some pages, I think her comic-timing and expressions peek out just enough to chase away the complete spook-factor. And her sidekick cat, Kit, has some hysterical lines, my favorite of which is “Me? Ow!” This book should do a good job equally scaring and tickling many a soul. This totally should have been a costume idea. Who else would do a space witch!

Well, that’s about as scary as this picture book lover goes. Safe travels tonight folks, whether just on the streets or off into space. Happy Halloween!

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