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Home > Books & Reviews > Pagan > Alice and Greta Search

Book Review:
Alice and Greta: A Tale of Two Witches

Author: Steven J Simmons
Hardcover, 32 pages
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
Publication date: September 1997
ISBN: 0881069744
Price & More Info: Click Here


As a Wiccan I tend to look for children's books which shy away from the usual perceptions, portrayals, and stereotypes usually associated with witches. This is not an easy task. Either I find a typical "wicked witch", or I might find a green-faced wart-nosed witch with a good heart. Alternately, I might find "regular people" portrayed as having supernatural powers. I have yet to find a children's book which portrays a Witch outside of all of these stereotypes, so I settle for books which are enjoyable reads, convey an overall positive message, and along the way seem flavored with something of the true heart of the religion I call home.

"Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"
-- Wizard of Oz

At first glance Alice and Greta, subtitled "A Tale of Two Witches", by Steven J. Simmons seemed to be no more than the usual good witch vs. bad witch story. I could just hear Glinda in her unnaturally-lilting voice. But, upon reading the text, I immediately purchased it. And (gasp!) even paid full price of 6.95.

Do you use white magic or black magic?

I've been asked this question more times than I can count over the years. And while my response is not always understood I give the same answer - magic is neither black nor white, the energy tapped into is the same whatever the purpose, it is the intent behind the magic which makes the difference. This book actually illustrates this point.

Alice and Greta are two witches, each attending Miss Mildred Mildew's School of Magic and growing up learning the same magic, the same spells, the same chants. However, they used that magic differently. For example, Alice uses hers to call a wave to lift a stranded sailboat off a sandbar while Greta calls a wave to ruin a sand castle.

Do you believe in Karma?

It is a premise often stated by teachers of Wicca and in related texts that that which you send out will return to you three-fold. This truism too is relayed in this slim volume. Often misbehaving, and rarely paying attention Greta missed the most important lesson that Miss Mildew taught her students, the Broomerang Principle.

"Whatever you chant,
whatever you brew,
sooner or later
comes back to you."

What a great way to simplify the lesson for children, that in life you may find that you get what you give.

So for it's attempt to illustrate two truths which I hold too, magic being a neutral force/energy/power ... and the concept of Karma .... I gave it a big ole thumbs ... maybe for the sake of humor I should say broomstick ... up. Add to that brilliantly colored illustrations by Cyd Moore rich with little details and an awful lot of humor and an attention-keeping story line and I would recommend this title to any Pagan family for whom these truths are also shared.

However, the book does still fall victim to some stereotyping.

Bad witches are ugly, nice witches are pretty.

Again, "The Wizard of Oz" comes to mind. Dorothy meets a bad tempered green faced hag and then when confronted with the bubble-traveling pretty Glinda cannot accept, at first, that she too is a witch. She is told that "only bad witches are ugly". This is not an uncommon theme and it plays out here as well.

Alice, the "good witch", is cute and bubbly. Her hair is neat, her clothes are pretty, her pet (familiar?) is an adorable white kitty. Greta, the "bad witch", is portrayed as ugly and scary-looking. Her hair is in ratty, bone-trimmed braids, her clothes are ragged and putrid-green, her pet (familiar?) is a nasty looking cat. I would have been happier if these two witches were portrayed without good vs. bad turning into pretty vs. ugly. They could have illustrated the point without resorting to a long pointed nose and a wart-covered face.

Witches are girls, Wizards (or worse yet Warlocks) are boys.

Within Wicca, and many other modern Witchcraft practices both males and females are called Witch. Wizard is a term more associated with Ceremonial Magic and Warlock is an older term, often translated as oath-breaker. While we only briefly see the other students as Miss Mildew's school they are all portrayed as girls. Call me picky, but in a perfect world we would have seen a few boys in the class as well.

Real Magic is supernatural ... wave a wand, boil a brew and Poof! there you go.

Real Magic, is more akin to prayer than anything portrayed on TV, movies, books, or in this slim volume. It is the focus of mind, will, and emotion toward a desired goal. While wands and brews may play a part they are considered to be more tools to focus concentration that items that hold any real power by themselves. Spells too are mere tools of focus, the words themselves do not hold the power, the witch herself, or himself, does. Here we see that with the wave of a wand, and the reciting of a few choice words, the desired result occurring instantly.

But this is not an instruction book on Wicca. It is not meant as a child's primer on Witchcraft. And the fictional portrayal of Witches have been with us for so long, any change will only be gradual. While I may wish that the book portrayed my path in a more accurate light, it would probably not make as entertaining or humorous a book.

This is a light and funny story whose goal is to convey that we should treat one another kindly. That when you are a good person, that good things come to you --- such as friendship, acceptance, and love.

Told in just over 30 pages, ranging from 1 to 8 lines of text each, the story is told in simple language and would be great as a read-aloud book to older preschool children and those in kindergarten and would engage those in first and second grades as a read-alone text.

The illustrations are vivid! Lots of different and bright hues catch the eye and hold the attention. Look for the details:

  • a book titled "The Joy of Conjuring" held over a cauldron
  • a girl whose hair turns into snakes, each wearing a different expression
  • a "vision" reflected in a cauldron's brew
  • the school girls meditating

It held my daughter's attention, had her laughing out loud, so all in all, I can't really find fault with it.

What I hope my children, and other Pagan children as well, take from it:

  • That what you put into life, be it in word, deed, or magic will return to you .... at a time you may not expect in a way that might surprise you.
  • That outlook is oh so important. While Alice and Greta lived on the same mountain, one was only inspired to be mean and the other found joy.
  • That magic is neither good or bad -- like the wind which in one form is a soft summer breeze delighting those who are touched by it which in another is a tornado inspiring fear and often bringing destruction
  • The wind itself is neither good or bad, like magic, it just is.

What I hope other children take from it:

  • First and foremost I hope they giggle and laugh.
  • I hope that they learn to look at life through the eyes of kindness always, to treat people in love and friendship.
  • And I also hope they learn that not all witches are "bad".

Reviewed by Jia Starsong

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