Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guest Post: The Dorrie the Witch Books

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!)

Welcome her!

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.


Read along on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter and Etsy!


Saara said...

This felt soooo weird! I lived in England for a few years back in the days, and when I left I got one of the Dorrie books from my clssmates. Since then haven't seen Dorrie 'till this day, thanks for the trip on memorylane!


Liz said...

Wow, that picture of the witch is soooo creepy!

Antmusic said...

I love the illustrations in these, and I always have my eyes open for them in the thrift stores with no luck. There are a few copycat-type books out there and I've found those! Ha ha!

Kimberly said...

Thanks for the great guest post, Harriet! As much as I'd love to find some Dorrie books, one of my kids has nightmares about witches, so I've learned that I must avoid for now any book that features even the most innocuous-looking witch. I hope that will change.

Jez said...

Wow. I had totally forgotten about this book until I stumbled across this blog post searching for more info on a book called House by Mouse, which I'm very fortunate to own. The moment I saw the images I got tingles down the spine as I remembered that I had read them as a child.

Thanks so much for sharing, i'm going to try and get my hands on a copy now.

Thanks again.


Peggy-Sue said...

Oh my gosh - I never read any Dorrie books when I was a little, but I couldn't stop staring at the illustrations in the post, thinking the style looked SO familiar to me... then I remembered! I ran upstairs and grabbed a book that I've had and adored since I was little - The Lost Playground - and it's by Patricia Coombs too! I've never looked for any other books by Patricia Coombs, but I'm definitely going to pick up a Dorrie the Witch book now for my daughter! Thanks so much for the post.

Lorielc said...

I also came to know and love Dorrie when I was very young In a small town in Ohio. My librarian would set aside the newest one for me as they arrived so that I was the first one to see it and read it!! Your article and description of the books was perfect. And I loved them all, as I devoured them all, for the same reasons you listed. To this day I love all Things spooky and supernatural.

Mary Fletcher Jones said...

I remember these books. I loved them. I checked them out of the school library again and again. Thanks for the memories.

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