Flashback Friday: Just the worst . . .

You’re the new girl at witch school, and you can’t get anything right . . . everything you try to do just goes awry.  But sometimes even being the worst witch at school, doesn’t mean you can’t save the day.

Do you remember:

The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy (Viking Children’s Books, c1974)

If you think Harry Potter introduced the concept of the school for magic, well you’ve got a lot of catch up reading to do.  I’m not certain when the concept of a “school” for magery rather than a magicker with an apprentice first took hold in children’s fiction, but it’s been around a while.  One of the earlier magical school stories for girls was this series.  Mildred Hubble is no Harry Potter . . . she’s more of a Neville Longbottom.  She can’t get anything right–and her clumsiness and ineptitude are making her quite unpopular at Miss Cackle’s boarding school.Mildred deals with bullies and uncompromising teachers, somehow creating success out of her bumbling.  And when villainous witches seek to take over the school Mildred may well be the only one who can stop them!

This is a lightweight series, completely out of the darker and more adventurous tones of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.  Mildred’s troubles tend to be more the ordinary boarding school kind: bullies, mean teachers, getting in trouble, ruining school events, etc.  Great for younger readers who want a touch of fantasy without it being too unfamiliar or frightening, these books have managed to last over four decades, with all seven books being spread out over that time frame, the last published in 2013;  The Worst Witch and the Wishing Star.  Jill Murphy first began writing stories about Mildred Hubble when she was 15 years old, and published her first book at 24.  She’s still writing for children and several of her other titles have garnered her awards and honors.  This British author may not be as well known as J.K. Rowling here in the states, but I’m glad her books have been around for generations of readers to enjoy.

I read them as a girl and empathized with Mildred in her struggles to just be accepted and do well in school.  (The author herself attended boarding school and pulled from her own experiences to create the setting and the character of Mildred).  While I generally went on to things more fantastical and darker, this is the series that introduced me to the trope of boarding school stories.  Apparently  in the 1980s there was a movie made from the book series: The Worst Witch (1986) which is notable for having Tim Curry  playing the grand wizard and singing a Halloween song I’ve seen the youtube video and it is pretty darn  . . . 1980s I guess. (I’ve included a link to the clip below, don’t say I didn’t warn you.)  Then in the 1990s there was a TV series based on The Worst Witch that ended in 2001.  I never saw the episodes, so I’m unsure if they ever aired in the States.

This is the kind of series I’d describe as a “cozy fantasy”.  They’re low risk, easily accessible and lots of fun for readers who want a little magic and mayhem, but want to keep it safe and mostly happy.  I’m happy to still find these books on our shelves, particularly when I have parents seeking something like Harry Potter but for younger readers who don’t care for anything too scary.

Any fans of the series out there?  Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on August 9, 2015, in Flashback Fridays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Oh, I’d totally forgotten this series, I used to love it! Didn’t she also have a cat that was an much of a failure as she was? Those were great books.

  2. I have never read these but they sound adorable.

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