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Wee Winnie Witch's Skinny Hardcover – August 1, 2004
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From School Library Journal
Grade 2-5–Hamilton has transformed her knowledge of witch beliefs in black folklore into an original tale. Wee Winnie changes from a black cat into her witch shape and hounds Uncle Big Anthony so relentlessly that she reduces him from a big, strapping man into one who is "lean and bent-over tired," an "about-gone, Uncle Shrunken Anthony." And as if that weren't enough, while his horrified nephew James Lee looks on from his bedroom window next door, Wee Winnie Witch takes off her skin and hangs it on a hook. She then grabs hold of Uncle Big Anthony, puts a bridle in his mouth, and rides him through the air, pulling James Lee right out of the window and onto his uncle's back as she flies by. Only Mama Granny's quick thinking saves the day. Hamilton's language is redolent with expressions that suggest African storytelling. Moser's large, colored-wood engravings, bordered in black and white, are strong and textured with horizontal and vertical lines. Illustrations show the hag, her black pointed hat in sharp contrast to an enormous moon, with bulging eyes glowing out of a lumpy body shed of the skin she is holding in her clawlike hand. This tale is admirably suited to Halloween telling, or for any time that shivers are in order.–Marianne Saccardi, Norwalk Community College, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Gr. 3-6. Hamilton, who died in 2002, brought us many unforgettable stories from her research in African American folklore. This original scare tale, which may be her creepiest, is a wonderful horror story that draws on traditional beliefs about witches hanging up their skins and riding people using braided hair as a bridle. Moser's framed, colored wood engravings do a great job of bringing the wild, shivery adventure close to home, their black backgrounds and strong lines lit with garish Halloween images in shades of green and red. The focus is on young James Lee, who sees Uncle Big Anthony taken by the Witch. She comes creeping like a cat, takes off her skin, hangs it on the wall next to Uncle's overalls, and rides him, holding on to his braided hair. One night she takes James Lee along for the ride. Far-seeing Mama Granny comes to the rescue, using a potion to trap the demon. Moser's realistic portrait of Mama Granny, bent over a stick but still solid and strong under the moonlit sky, is as memorable as the garish image of the skinless witch. Even better, Hamilton makes clear that James Lee enjoys the ride as much as he relishes the witch's grisly end; so will the middle-grade readers--especially at Halloween. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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There's something wrong with James Lee's Uncle Big Anthony. Once a large strapping fellow, Anthony's been wasting away lately. There are mysterious scratch marks on his shirts and a tear at the corner of his mouth, "where a cat-wich Winnie must've tried to bridle him". The neighbors are saying that a Wee Winnie (a witch) must be after Uncle Big Anthony and there's nothing that can be done. James Lee doesn't know about that, so he's determined to help any way they can. Still, it's only with the aid of Mama Granny's spice-hot pepper witch-be-gone potion that one Wee Winnie Witch meets an ugly but well-deserved demise.
After reading the book it's difficult to figure out how exactly this creation could have been published without the accompanying Barry Moser illustrations. Evoking everything from lynching to slavery through the meticulous use of symbolism, light, and shadow, these pictures say a great deal about African-American history. Telling her tale with references to various elements of black folklore, Hamilton is faithful to traditional black scare stories and, if anything, she does too good a job. Still, it's Moser who brings these pictures horribly to life. Want to see an old crone (obviously European) remove her skin in one large horrible hunk? Or to view a black cat morphing into an evil woman, all long fingernails, teeth, and bloodshot eyes? This story is too young for older children, but younger ones with sturdy constitutions may adore it in it's own right. Or never want to open another book again out of fear. It could really swing either way here.
So when your child, aged five to nine years, pulls at your pantleg and asks you to get them a book at the library that's scary... REALLY scary... take them at their word. Pick out "Wee Winnie Witch's Skinny" from the bookshelves, cuddle up at night, and tell them this excellent tale. It will either be exactly what they're looking for or far far too much. In any case, it'll remain a memorable way to prove to them the full-blooded excitement of reading.