Witchy Picture Books – A Retrospective
The Wonder of Witchy Picture Books
Witches have been a popular theme in picture books for decades, offering a mix of mystery, magic, and moral lessons. Their portrayal ranges from menacing to kind-hearted, with each interpretation resonating with readers in different ways.
There’s a long-running conversation over on LibraryThing where someone first posted back in 2014 looking for a favourite witch picture book from their childhood. Their post read, in part,
I read a book when I was 9 or 10 (1990 or 1991) that was like a handbook for witches. It was hardback, the pages were glossy and fully illustrated. One page talked about how a witch’s favorite weather is rain and gloom. Another page showed a witch’s house and you could see in all the rooms and how it was decorated. Unfortunately, that is all I remember. Please help, I have been trying to find this book for years.
I’ve been chiming in on this thread for years with various suggestions, because somehow I have ended up with quite a reasonably sized collection of witch handbooks and guides aimed at kids. Many others have shared possibilities on that thread as well, but no-one has had any luck in finding the original book. However, one of the most interesting things about the thread is how many other people found much-loved books from their childhood from perusing the suggestions. So, I thought it might be useful to share some of the internal images from my own witchy collection of illustrated books – a sort of PSA if you will, for the pre-Harry Potter crowd who harboured magical designs well before the Hogwarts Owl invitation was even a thing. I hope you’ll enjoy looking through them if you are trying to find an old favorite, or even just as entertainment if you also love vintage witchy books.
Unfortunately many of the older books are out of print and hard to find (although here’s a hot tip – psychedelic 70s classic Suppose You Met A Witch has just been reprinted, yay!), so I’ve included a bunch of my favourite recent witchy picture books as well if you prefer them new. These obviously wouldn’t be an answer to that original poster’s query from above, but the books just might make a lovely addition to your own bookshelves.
Oh – and please do share your favourites, or add any great books I’ve missed in the comments – maybe we’ll even be able to help that original poster one day! All the books in this list are guaranteed to be fun and full of joy, but in case you’re interested, my own top picks are marked with a ★.
Warmest witchy wishes,
Jump to books on this page: Recent books: Tiffany Aching’s Guide to Being a Witch | The Garden Witch | A Spoonful of Frogs | The Christmas Witch | Which Way to Witch School | *Room on the Broom | The Widow’s Broom | Witchfairy | Lotje/Lizzy The Curious Witch | 1990s: Here There Be Witches | *The Wacky Book of Witches | | 1980s: *The Witch’s Handbook | *Winnie the Witch | Heckedy Peg | The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything | *The Witches | *Witches | 1970s: *Witch Poems | The Witch’s Catalog | *Strega Nona | Little Witch’s Halloween | *Suppose You Met A Witch | *Meg and Mog | A Woggle of Witches | 1960s and earlier: Tilly Witch | Old Black Witch | *A Book of Witches | *Dorrie the Witch | *The Little Witch
Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links for which I may be compensated (this does not affect my reviews nor cost you any money). I deeply appreciate your support of my site hosting costs if you use these links, but warmly encourage you to buy from your local Indie bookshop if you have the opportunity.
Dragons, Giants, and Witches, by Christopher Rawson, illustrated by Stephen Cartwright – Usborne, 1979 (HB: 9780860203421)
Special mention: How to Make Magic’ from 1974 https://cavalorn.livejournal.com/588229.html
Tiffany Aching's Guide to Being A Witch - Rhianna Pratchett & Gabrielle Kent, illustrated by Paul Kidby
An illustrated and practical guide to being a witch in Discworld, covering everything you’ve ever wanted to know from telling the bees to magical cheese, from dealing with elves to making deals with demons, from tending flocks to fending off forces from other worlds. This beautiful and practical guide has been compiled by Tiffany Aching herself (aka Terry Pratchett’s daughter Rhianna), including snippets of remembered wisdom and notes from Granny Aching, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Miss Tick, and Rob Anybody. (Note: Physical copy presently only available from the UK.)
Penguin (HB: 9780241651995), Nov 2023.
A Spoonful of Frogs - Casey Lyall, illustrated by Vera Brosgol
An attempt to make frog soup, a witch’s favourite treat, spells disaster during a cooking show when a key ingredient refuses to cooperate with the magical chef.
Greenwillow Books (HB: 9780062890290), 2022.
The Legend of the Christmas Witch - Dan Murphy & Aubrey Plaza, illustrated by Julia Iredale
The long lost tale of the Christmas Witch, Santa Claus’s much misunderstood twin sister. Written by Parks and Recreation star Aubrey Plaza and creative partner Dan Murphy. If you love this one, Kristtörn later returns in the equally lovely sequel The Return of the Christmas Witch.
Viking Books (HB: 9780593350805), 2021.
The Widow's Broom - Chris Van Allsburg
An old witch’s broom keeps Minna Shaw company until it turns on two naughty kids, and her neighbors demand she gets rid of it. Van Allsburg’s moody, mysterious sepia-toned artwork is a standout in this dark magical story. Clarion released a nice 25th anniversary edition in 2018.
Original publication: Houghton Mifflin, 1992 (HB: 9780395640517). In print: Clarion, 2018.
Witchfairy - Brigitte Minne, illustrated by Carll Cneut
This Flemish picture book tells the story of Rosemary, a fairy who wants to be a witch. The moody, petulant illustrations are divine, and the story about staying true to yourself is quite lovely.
Book Island (HB: 9781911496076), 2017.
The Curious Little Witch - Lieve Baeten
Lizzy (or Lotje in the original) is a curious little witch, who has to investigate when she she spots an old house all lit up when everyone else is asleep. The story is gentle, but the fun comes with the pencil and watercolor drawings that grace half-gatefold illustrations and allow young readers to shift their perspective. There are six more in this series, including Merry Christmas, Little Witch, and The Clever Little Witch and you should be able to find them cheaply second-hand.
Oetinger Verlag (Die Neugierige Kleine Hexe, HB: 9783789163067), 1992. In English: NorthSouth (HB: 9780735823051), 2010.
★ Room on the Broom - Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
This delightful rhyming tale follows a generous witch who keeps dropping her possessions and the animals who return them. All of the Donaldson & Scheffler rhyming picture books are excellent and engaging, and this one is one of their best. There are lots of different versions (board book, paperback, even a special anniversary edition), so it isn’t hard to find.
Macmillan (UK)/Dial (US). First published 2001.
Here There Be Witches - Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Wilgus
★ The Wacky Book of Witches - Anne Civardi, illustrated by Graham Philpot
Awesome and memorable, this book features incredible detailed illustrations of witchery hijinks, as we follow Old Warty around as she shops, cooks and gets ready for a special night out. There are hidden elements to delight careful readers and lots of play with the text. Highly recommended if you can find it.
Scholastic, 1992 (HB: 9780590450942)
★ The Witch's Handbook - Malcolm Bird
This is the top book that most people remember poring over in the library as a kid. It includes wild cartoon-style illustrations that cover everything from how to find the perfect home, to instructions for spells, gardening and good luck charms. It also includes all sorts of actual crafts – making a bat tea cosy, a crazy quilt, and a broomstick, for example – and Hallowe’en party games. It’s super fun but typically expensive, so highly recommended if you can find a copy for a decent price.
St Martin’s Press, 1987 (HB, 9780312884581); Simon & Schuster, 1988 (PB, 9780689712371).
★ Winnie the Witch - Valerie Thomas, illustrated by Korky Paul
Winnie is a whimsical witch with a black house who keeps tripping over her black cat, Wilbur. To solve the issue, she uses magic, but each spell brings its own set of problems. Lots of vibrant illustrations and humor. There’s a nice 35th anniversary omnibus edition that was released by OUP in 2022, and nineteen more titles in the series if you’re a fan.
Original publication: Oxford University Press (UK, HB, 9780192798473) / Kane/Miller (US, HB, 9780916291136), 1987. In print: OUP, 35th anniversary edition, 2022.
Heckedy Peg - Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood
Inspired by a 16th century children’s game that is still played today, this is an entertaining tale about seven children names after the days of the week and the witch that tries to capture them. Don Wood’s painterly illustrations are particularly sublime.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything - Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd
Once upon a time, there was a little old lady who was not afraid of anything, until one Autumn night, while walking in the woods, she gets the fright of her life. The new reprint is great, as it adds a vibrant pop of color to some of the ‘spooky’ words.
Thomas Y Crowell, 1986 (HB: 9780690045840). In print: HarperCollins, 2019.
★ The Witches - Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Okay, not a picture book, but clearly I couldn’t leave this classic off the list! Here, we have deceptively ordinary women hiding their malicious intentions towards children, aiming to transform them into mice through their sinister spells – unless our unconventional heroes (a young boy and his grandmother) can stop them. Blake’s lively, scratchy illustrations are synonymous with the story, with most vintage publications showing them in b&w with several later editions having them colorised. There are plenty of versions kicking about, but if you have the dollars to spare, the Folio Society have a particularly lovely version currently in print as part of a boxed set.
Jonathan Cape, 1983
★ Witches - Colin Hawkins (and an old witch)
I love this witchy guidebook with lots of humorous tips on how to recognize a witch, cast different types of spells, and other witchcraft trivia. Hawkins wrote several of these spooky guidebooks (companion volumes include Pirates, Vampires, Spooks and the Monster Compendium), and all of them are slyly humorous, with lots of cartoon-style illustrations with detailed annotations to pore over and enjoy. Delightful and highly recommended. (Note: don’t confuse this edition with his similarly named 1993 pop-up book Witches (Little Screamers) nor his 1999 picture storybook, Wizzie Witch, which are both very different.)
Picture Lions, 1981 (PB, 9780006625742)
Witch Poems - edited by Daisy Wallace, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
A collection of eighteen poems about witches by many famous authors – such as L. Frank Baum, e.e. cummings, Eleanor Farjeon, Jack Prelutsky – a couple of which were written especially for this collection. I love this one for the elegant and eerie b&w witch illustrations by the incomparable Trina Schart Hyman.
Holiday House, 1976
➤ Find it at Amazon |
The Witch's Catalog - Norman Bridwell
A collection of objects, inventions, and magical goodies, presented as a catalog where kids could ‘purchase’ them direct from the witch’s workshop. Bridwell also published a bunch of witch picture storybooks – The Witch Next Door, The Witch’s Vacation, The Witch Grows Up, etc.
Scholastic, 1976 (0135379857).
★ Strega Nona - Tomie dePaola
Strega Nona (her name is based on the Italian for “Grandma Witch”), is a kind-hearted old witch known for her magical pasta pot. But when her helper, Big Anthony, tries to use the pot without knowing the secret to stop it, the town gets flooded with pasta. Strega Nona and Big Anthony appeared in 12 books by dePaola, and this beloved character has appeared in everything from films and stamps, to an excellent pop-up book adaptation engineered by the great paper wizards Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart.
Prentice Hall/Simon & Schuster, 1975
The Little Witch's Halloween Book - Linda Glovach
There are a whole bunch of these Little Witch books from the 1970s, focusing on holidays, seasons, pets and more. The books include lots of fairly merry ‘make and do’ project ideas to entertain the kids. I’ve included pics below from The Little Witch’s Halloween Book to give you an idea of the style, but other titles include The Black Magic Cookbook, Book of Disguises, Book of Games, Christmas Book, Thanksgiving Book, Valentine Book, Cat Book, and more.
Prentice Hall, 1975
★ Suppose You Met A Witch - Ian Serraillier, illustrated by Ed Emberley
Emberley’s fabulous psychedelic illustrations for this poem are simply magical, filled with detail, humor and sworls of vibrant color. I’m absolutely thrilled this one was reissued in 2023 by Anthology Editions, so that everyone can enjoy this long-out-of-print classic. Grab it while it’s available!
Little Brown & Co, 1973. In print: Anthology Editions, 2023.
★ Meg and Mog - Helen Nicoll, illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski
The Meg and Mog books are my favourite early readers (hilariously, I started preschool able to spell cauldron because of these books, much to the consternation of my teachers!). Bright and bold illustrations accompany simple text about the escapades of Meg, a witch whose spells always seem to go wrong, and her friends the striped cat Mog, and Owl. They’ve been solidly in print for 50 years, which I think is a pretty strong testament to their beloved space on early bookshelves!
Little Brown & Co, 1973. In print: Puffin 2022.
A Woggle of Witches - Adrienne Adams
A charming book filled with double-page painting spreads, each featuring a few words capturing a fun moment in the tiny forest witches’ night out. These little witches also star in The Halloween Happening, if you’re after a sequel.
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971 (HB: 9780684125060).
1960s and earlier
Tilly Witch - Don Freeman
Tilly the surfboarding witch is too nice, so she has to return to Witch Finishing School to relearn the tricks of the trade. This one is a cute read-aloud but tbh, I don’t think it’s as good as the author’s most famous picture book, Corduroy.
Viking Press/Puffin, 1969.
Old Black Witch! - Wende and Harry Devlin
When Nicky and his mom buy an old New England house to turn into a tearoom, they are startled to find they must share the house with its resident grumpy troublemaker, Old Black Witch. There’s a mix of b&w and color illustrations. The new Purple House Press release includes the recipe for ‘Bewitching Blueberry Pancakes’ on the back cover. A charming classic, still most enjoyable today. (There were a couple more in this series too, Old Witch and the Polka-Dot Ribbon and Old Witch Rescues Halloween – but both sequels are currently OOP.)
Parent’s Magazine, 1966. In print: Purple House Press, 2023.
★ A Book of Witches - Ruth Manning Sanders, illustrated by Robin Jacques
This is one book of a simply wonderful series of short story collections by Ruth Manning Sanders and Robin Jacques. (All the titles are standalone, they simply focus on different creatures or themes.) Ruth’s tales are engagingly and memorably told, and Robin’s stippled illustrations are simply divine. First printings of the vintage editions include a colour frontispiece, remaining illustrations (and later printings) are all b&w. A firm favorite!
Methuen (UK) / Dutton (US) 1966. In print: Mab Media, 2020.
★ Dorrie's Magic - Patricia Coombs
This is the first in a series of 20 adorable illustrated storybooks about Dorrie the Witch, who often finds herself (along with her mismatched socks and shoes and her cat Gink) in a variety of magical mishaps and adventures. The sweet illustrations are mostly b&w, with a few pops of color throughout. The original books were released starting from this first book in the early 1960s, right up until the last title in the series (Dorrie and the Haunted Schoolhouse) which came out in 1992. Four of the titles were also re-released in very nice small-format hardback edition Egmont in 2015, which you will likely find to be in better condition than vintage paperbacks.
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1962.
★ The Little Witch - Otfried Preußler, translated by Anthea Bell, illustrated by Winnie Gayler
An illustrated story rather than a picture book, this classic tale (German original: Die Kleine Hexe) is about a witch who disgraces herself during a Walpurgis Night party and spends the next year trying to be the best witch in the forest. The NYRB Children’s Collection fortunately reissued this book released in 2015 (so it’s still in print), in series with several of Otfried’s other titles.
First published in German by K Thienemanns Verlag Stuttgart, 1957; in English by Abelard-Schuman, 1961. In print: NYRB Children’s Books, 2015.