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The Witch’s Daughter

Author: Nina Bawden. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes
Series: Puffin Story Books
Edition: 1975 reprint
Published: Harmondsworth
Physical Description: 159p. : ill.
Notes: The Puffin Story Book series features numerous books by British author Nina Bawden; the Bartlett-Puffin Collection contains nine titles by Bawden. Bawden (1925 –) is the author of more than forty novels for adults and children and is best known for her acclaimed novel Carrie’s War (1973) (O’Sullivan 41), which is included in the Puffin Books series. However, The Witch’s Daughter, is also significant as it draws attention to the doubly marginalised status of its girl characters from the outset. Perdita is a young orphan girl, whose mother was presumed a witch, and who lives on a fictional Scottish island with an old woman Annie MacLaren, housekeeper for Mr Smith. The book opens as Perdita watches people arrive to the island. Perdita communicates with a young girl Janey, who arrives with the group, in a different ‘language’ when she recognises Janey is blind: ‘Understanding, she pursed her lips to make a soft, warbling cry, like a sleepy bird. Janey turned. Perdita warbled again, so low that only someone listening really hard could have heard her, and this time Janey did smile back, a quick, delighted, friendly smile’ (10). The remainder of the book focuses on a largely conventional plot, where Perdita, Janey, and her brother Tim, work to identify two men on the island who have been involved in a robbery of a jewellery shop three years previously and who have hidden the treasure in a cave on the island. Perhaps the most significant element of the remaining plotline is the way in which both girls see in ways that others cannot: Perdita is said to have a ‘Second Sight’ inherited from her mother, while Janey’s heightened senses lead them to uncover vital clues. On one occasion, Janey’s developed sense of direction means she can lead the children to safety when they have been lured into a dark labyrinthine cave by one of the novel’s villains. Though Perdita and Janey discover many vital clues, and sometimes do so accidentally, it is Tim who pieces together the information, in a manner which does not seem to credit the girls’ ingenuity directly. However, Tim is not taken seriously by the adults of the novel for the most part either, and he longs to prove his credibility and reliability. Towards the end of the novel, the narrative convincingly explores Perdita’s loss after the death of Mr Smith, whom she thought a good man, and her conflicting feelings on wanting to fit in with other children. The novel ends with an image of Perdita and Janey’s connection and friendship as they say goodbye.
[Ciara Gallagher].
O’ Sullivan, Emer. Historical Dictionary of Children’s Literature. Lanham, MD.: Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Subject: Gender, Genre, Moral, Witches, Blind Children, Adventure, Treasure, Adult-Child Relationships, Death, Robbery
Language: English
Original price: United Kingdom 40p; New Zealand $1.15; Canada $1.50
Library: Church of Ireland College of Education
Collection: Bartlett Puffin Collection - CICE