Guest post today all the way from the UK... Meet Harriet Muncaster. Harriet is currently working on her MA in children's book illustration in Cambridge and she took some time out of her busy schedule to write up a post on her favorite children's books. It's longer than the reviews I usually post, but I figured since she took the time to write it all, it was nice to share. (Sadly, I had to edit it down, too!)
The Dorrie the Witch Books
By Patricia Coombs
series published from 1962 to 1992
This is Dorrie. She is a witch. A little witch. Her hat is always on crooked and her stockings never match.
When I was younger, my mum would take us to the library, and it was there that I first discovered Dorrie. I remember being totally drawn into her world. I loved the spooky town of Witchville, the sparkly looking magic potions, the eerie silhouettes of witches flying across the sky and the ominous feeling of a bad witch lurking somewhere in the story.
The Dorrie books stood out because of their black and white illustrations, often offset by just one or two colours. They are so different from the brightly coloured and commercial illustrations of some children’s books today.
The two Dorrie books my library stocked were Dorrie’s Play and Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs. There was one time I was reading The Birthday Eggs for the first time in bed and my parents were having a dinner party downstairs. I turned the page and this face leered up at me:
It gave me such a shock that I remember jumping right out of bed and running downstairs to show my parents in the middle of their party! It still freaks me out a little bit today.
The stories are all set in Witchville, the town where Dorrie and her mother, the Big Witch, live with the ogreish, bossy but good-at-heart Cook and Dorrie’s black cat Gink.
Dorrie and Gink are forever getting into scrapes, like in Dorrie and the Weather Box, when they creep into the Big Witch’s secret magic room and try to make a spell to change the weather. Of course, nothing goes to plan, and Dorrie and Gink end up making it rain and thunder inside the house. Big Witch eventually comes home and sorts it all out. Well, kind of. She makes a mistake, too, and it starts snowing orange instead!
All the Dorrie books have quirky and off beat stories. After collecting almost all of them (to great dismay of my bank balance), the style of the illustrations changes as the series progresses. The first books are graphic looking; blacker with more block colours. Halfway through the series, the illustrations become more subtle; perhaps created with a soft pencil. And then toward the end, Ms. Coombs starts using full colour.
What I love most of all about the Dorrie books is the slightly creepy but comforting atmosphere. Having a penchant for slightly-spooky-but-not-too-scary things, the Dorrie stories really encompass everything I want out of a children’s book!
I am really grateful that I was lucky enough to come across the Dorrie books as a child. Now at twenty three and studying to become a children’s book illustrator myself, I can see how unique they are and how much of an inspiration they have been to me.
Amazingly, a few of the Dorrie books are being reprinted using a print-on-demand service on Amazon, and a good number are still in print in the U.S.
View the complete list of Dorrie books, here.
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