Picklewitch and Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Picklewitch and Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret by Claire Barker, illustrated by Teemu Juhani, published by Faber Children’s

So, I have been getting a lot of bookpost recently. Mostly that I’ve ordered and paid for, some that I’d requested or been offered to review. But last week a mysterious book-shaped parcel arrived and I had no idea what it could be.

People – it was THE NEW PICKLEWITCH AND JACK! It was so unexpected and such a lovely surprise!

And most importantly, it more than lived up to expectations! I loved both of the first Picklewitch and Jack books (you can read my reviews of them here and here) so I had high hopes and this was every bit as warm, funny and fantastic as the first two.

If you’ve yet to meet Picklewitch then firstly, you’ve been missing out, and secondly, go back and start at book one. This would read fine as a standalone but you’d only want to read the rest immediately and you’ll get so much more from it if you see Picklewitch and Jack’s friendship develop from the beginning.

But if you’ve set your sights on starting midway through the series, maverick that you are – Jack is a quiet, clever, rule-following, fossil-collecting boy. His best friend is Picklewitch who is, to put it simply, an absolute force of nature (both literally and metaphorically).

And here, they’re off to the seaside. Well, Jack is. Picklewitch is not so sure (read: she is stubbornly certain she’s not going and sulkily demanding Jack doesn’t go either) until she hears there’ll be I Screams, then her bag is packed (by the birds. At her say so. And with Jack’s lunch sneaked in of course.)

There’s a school trip to meet a famous fossil hunter and hunt for fossils – Jack’s dream! But Picklewitch isn’t sold (read: can’t think of anything more boring than fudgenutting fizzles) and is much more interested in befriending (read: getting cake from) the Sea Wizard she spies on the beach.

But what has Scowling Margaret got hidden in her cave? And what is our famous fossil hunter really searching for?

This is another brilliant adventure from this perfectly paired and utterly lovable duo.

It’s full of holiday excitement – fossil hunting by the sea, splashing in rock pools in a rather…retro…bathing costume (I loved this!), sneaking out at midnight, messages in bottles and undersea caves; and there’s a great twist in the trip revealing both a perfectly painted baddie and a…well I can’t spoil that!

But it’s the characters that really make these books and they are in top form here.

Jack and Picklewitch both play off each other and balance each other brilliantly, and its lovely to see their friendship so strong now.

Of course, Picklewitch is the star, larger than life, and bursting from the page in Teemu Juhani’s exuberant illustrations. She fizzes with energy and unbridled mischief, and Claire Barker’s utterly joyous, totally bonkers, cleverly creative use of language is, as ever, perfect for her.

She is one of the funniest, liveliest, most lovable, well-drawn characters I know and I love her. Everyone should be just a bit more Picklewitch (even if just through taking up her favourite exclamations of excitement, declarations of disapproval and irritated insults – “WOT a fudgenut. WOT a fopdoodle. WOT a frazzler.”)

But here there’s also the excellent Scowling Margaret. Brilliantly depicted by both Claire and Teemu (ahem, and Picklewitch – “A proper old mugswoggler and hobbledehoy she is.”) she’s everything a Sea Wizard should be and the scene in her cave after Picklewitch has invited herself for tea cake is genius in its silences, small talk and solid slabs of cake.

I love this illustration – it’s just so full of character and has such a story all on its own.

If you couldn’t tell already I thought this addition to one of my favourite series was the absolute kipper’s knickers. Engaging, energetic and laugh out loud funny – everyone needs Picklewitch and Jack in their lives.

Picklewitch and Jack and the Cuckoo Cousin

I received a free copy of this from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and views are all my own.

Picklewitch and Jack and the Cuckoo Cousin by Claire Barker and Teemu Juhani

I reviewed the first Picklewitch and Jack book last year and I LOVED it, so when I was offered a copy of the new book to review I leapt at the chance.

I wasn’t disappointed. This more than lives up to the expectations built by book one!

Much of what I wrote about the first book stands true about this one as well.

The language and writing style are as vibrant, pacy and original as ever and remain perfectly pitched – accessible but in no way dumbed down.

“As secret as a nut in its shell.”

And there are some wonderful invented words and phrases adding spark and humour – think Roald Dahl’s BFG and you’re on the right lines for Picklewitch’s vernacular.

“I can’t be dealing with mooncalves and frazzlers.”

Picklewitch

The illustrations are stylish and expressive, with the characters’ very different personalities shining through and Picklewitch’s love of the wild and nature made visual.

There is again a glossary of Picklewitch’s words, a selection of spells and recipes, nature guides a la Picklewitch at the end of the story and they’re an absolute delight – I grinned and grinned reading them!

The characters remain true to themselves – Picklewitch is still a cake-loving, slightly bonkers, brimming with confidence, rule-breaking/making, tree-dwelling witch and Jack is still a school-loving, rule-following, bit-of-a-worrier Boxie who lives in the house attached to Picklewitch’s garden.

But they’re given chance to grow and develop in this episode as well, which – especially in Jack’s case – is lovely to see. Yes, he’s still a worrier but he’s taking more chances, starting to make friends, enjoying life more… Picklewitch, whilst being a terribly bad influence, has of course been a fantastically good one!

And for her part, she shows in this book just how smart and loyal this apparent kidder really is, whilst – of course – retaining her pride, her irrefutable manner, her incredible knack for absolutely always being right and of course her enormous sense of fun.

Picklewitch and Jack’s friendship is put to the test in this book, when Picklewitch receives a letter

“Do witches get letters?” asked Jack, squinting into the sun.

“All the time,” she said.

“Have you ever had one before?”

“No.”

from a mysterious, and hitherto unknown, cousin saying he’s coming to stay.

Jack is naturally anxious – what if Picklewitch has so much fun with her cousin she forgets about being friends with him? But when Archie Cuckoo arrives, Jack thinks he’s perfect – well behaved, interested in learning, smart (he even has a briefcase) – and they end up getting on splendidly.

But is Archie Cuckoo too good to be true? (Spoiler alert – Yes. Yes he is.)

He is in fact a brilliant baddie. I love how we see him charming/magicking his way into Jack’s life and the repercussions of this for Jack and Picklewitch.

There’s a serious story of friendship, loyalty and trust which underpins the humour, magic and dancing ants.

I think that’s what I love so much about these books – they zip and ping with energy, spells, flying feathers and creepy crawlies, and you will giggle from start to finish (I chortled my way happily through my lunch hour) but there’s also a huge amount of warmth, understanding and gentle reassurance for some tricky situations in there.

This second book in the Picklewitch and Jack series is just as full of heart as the first and has confirmed their place as firm favourites of mine. I can’t wait for the next one (roll on Autumn 2020!!)

Picklewitch and Jack

As part of my quest to read more younger chapter books as well as ‘MG’, I requested a copy of this from Faber (who very kindly obliged – thank you!) and it’s safe to say I’m thrilled I did as it’s become one of my favourite books of the year.

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Picklewitch lives in a tree at the bottom of the garden. She has a nose for naughtiness, a mind for mischief and a weakness for cake. And unluckily for brainbox and all-round-goody-two-shoes Jack (who’s just moved in) she’s about to choose him as her new best friend… Jack is in for a whole lot of trouble!

I can’t tell you how much I love this book. Rather than reminding me of any specific book from when I was little, it brought back the feeling I got from reading the very best of them. The ones I loved. That indescribable buzz of a book that just seems to have got everything spot on.

The language for a start. Not too simple or patronising, nor over the top, it’s just right for younger readers The descriptions are wonderfully atmospheric and lively, conjuring up thunderstorms and wild gardens, trying to sleep in a spooky old house and, of course, delicious cakes. The way in which the blossoming friendship between Jack and Picklewitch is described – its complications, and Jack’s frustration and confusion in particular are depicted brilliantly.

The pace is perfectly matched to Picklewitch’s particular brand of chaos – the rollercoaster-like build and scream of it each time Jack moves from feeling relieved to realising something’s not quite right to…uh-oh! And all the while, cleverly dropping in the growing realisation that Picklewitch might be trouble with a capital T but she’s also desperate to be a friend with a capital F.

Which brings us to the characters. It would be easy to dislike a character like Jack – always well behaved, incredibly clever and something of a perfectionist – he has the potential to be boring at best and irritating at worst. Luckily, he’s neither, and his uncertainty about the not-so-black-and-white world of friendship and his earnest efforts to address it are very endearing too.

And then, of course, there’s Picklewitch. Even her name is fantastic – just say it and try not to smile. A tornado of trouble with an enormous heart, an insatiable appetite for cake and confidence enough for two, she is simply wonderful. Everyone should have a Picklewitch in their life.

The glossary of Picklewitch words, as well as her jokes and spells added in at the end of the story was joyous too!

And if all that wasn’t enough on its own, Teemu Juhani’s busy, fun and full illustrations capture the essence of Picklewitch and the feel of the story splendidly.

There will never be a shortage of witch books, especially for this age group, but this truly stands out from the crowd – a madcap tale of friendship and fun – it really is the kipper’s knickers!

WWW Wednesday 21/11/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday is ‘WWW Wednesday’:

It feels like it’s been an age since I’ve done a WWW post – probably because it has been! Although I’m managing to read with Peapod here, I’m not reading anywhere near as much. Before I’d read on my commute to and from work, so a good 30mins minimum each way plus in bed at night. Now I’m lucky if I can snatch ten minutes during the day, so everything is taking me SO much longer to get to – which is frustrating when I have so many books I’m desperate to read! But let’s face it – he’s worth it.

What are you currently reading?

Well…nothing! I need to make a start on something new. I seem to have been saying Wundersmith is next for months, so maybe that…

What have you just finished reading?

I loved this! Its one of those books that just felt absolutely spot on and had me grinning from ear to ear. Picklewitch is as joyous as her name sounds. Full review will follow, but I can’t wait for the next of Picklewitch and Jacks’ adventures!

I’m a huge Lauren Child fan too and my review for her new Hubert Horatio book is here.

This arrived earlier in the week – I’m going to post a full review as part of our Book Advent in December but for now I’ll just say this – it’s wonderful!

What are you planning on reading next?

I only ever read one book at a time, but am considering breaking that ‘rule’ in order to start Wundersmith and read one (or more!) of these too – as they’re very different and a fair bit shorter too I’m pretty sure it would work…

Do you ever read more than one book at a time? Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?