Review: The Witch of Woodland

The Witch of Woodland

by Laurel Snyder

Walden Pond Press (imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Judy Greenblatt
Zipporah Chava McConnell, better known as Zippy, age 12, is a witch – or at least she has magical powers. It’s obvious, from the long dark hair streaming down her back to her all-black clothing. However, no one else believes that she has powers, contributing to her sense of isolation in the midst of the changes that being 12 and beginning middle school bring. For instance, Zippy and her friend forever Bea are no longer in sync, and Zippy’s mother surprises her with plans for a bat mitzvah, unexpected because of the unorthodox Judaism practiced by her family. Completely confused and miserable, Zippy turns to the element that sets this book apart: magic. Zippy calls forth a spirit, a girl who could be her reverse image, who becomes her best friend.

The book is narrated by Zippy, who tries to get the amazing events of the fall on paper, as they unfolded, as truthfully as possible, before she forgets. We can follow Zippy’s thoughts and complicated feelings as she deals with complex issues, as well as the events that triggered them.

The Witch of the Woodland is unillustrated, except for the attractive cover, but the cover art does not reflect what Zippy says about the way she dresses.

Judaism is at the core of this book. Contextually it’s about Zippy’s attitude toward her bat mitzvah. The child of a Jewish mother and a father whose father wasn’t Jewish, formal religion has not played a big part in her life. Zippy’s attitude is very Jewish – she asks question after question, important questions throughout the bat mitzvah process. Finding the word for witch in her bat mitzvah portion, she searches for information about Jewish magic, and after conjuring up Miriam, about Jewish spirits. In addition, Zippy cares deeply about tikkun olam, repairing the world. Everything Jewish in the book is carefully explained, so as to be accessible to those who don’t know anything about Judaism. That includes explanations of bar/bat mitzvah, Hebrew words, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, tikkun olam, Jewish ideas about spirits and magic, and the ways Zippy’s family practice diverges from what might be considered normative Jewish practice.

An impressive addition to the literature about the bat mitzvah year.

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Reviewer Judith S. Greenblatt says: I hold a Master of Library Service from Rutgers-The State University, and a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College, Newton, Ma. I have been Director of Library Services at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Rhode Island, served as Vice President and President of the School, Synagogue and Center Division of AJL. Publications include: 1985-86 Book lists; for young children, for 3rd to 6th graders, for young adults, 100 Plus Books For The Children's Library: A Basic Collection. Weine Classification Scheme for Judaica Libraries. Revised by Judith S. Greenblatt, Chairman. 8th edition. Association of Jewish Libraries, Synagogue, School and Center Division, 1994.