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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Brixen Witch, written by Stacy DeKeyser. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster. 2012. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"From inside, Rudi could hear scuffling and cursing and muffled thwacking. Then the door opened and two black rats scurried out, followed by a large, red-faced woman waving a broom in their wake. The rats vanished under the house, and the woman narrowly avoided smacking Rudi with the broom."

Rudi lives in the small mountain village of Brixen. The people of Brixen know that the mountain that rises up at their back doors is the stomping grounds for an evil and very powerful witch. Or, so the story goes!

In this retelling of the Pied Piper, we come to know Rudi and his family, including the crotchety and unforthcoming Oma, who seems to have knowledge of the Brixen Witch that others do not have. She knows 'it's bad luck to speak of such things' and she ensures that this message is passed along to her grandson.

Finding a golden guilder on the high meadow one day while he is out on the mountain, Rudi has no idea that it belongs to the witch. When his Oma discovers that he has it, she warns him that he must return it immediately or face the witch's wrath:

"All I mean to say," said Oma, as if the conversation had not just ended, "is that if you did visit a witch, I hope you didn't take anything. Anyone who steals from the Brixen Witch's hoard is hounded without mercy until she gets her treasure back. That's all I mean to say."

Haunted by nightmares and scared of the magic power of the witch, Rudi takes Oma's advice and return the coin to where he found it before the snow falls and winter settles on the mountain. While trying to do this, he slips causing a landslide and losing the coin in his tumble toward the tree line.  Rudi spends the winter plagued by troubled sleep.

When spring returns to the village, it brings with it a plague of rats. Rudi is convinced that his actions have caused the bad luck that is engulfing his community. He helps a professional rat catcher trap and drown the rats. The village returns to peace and great joy, until the rats return. It is not long before a strange fiddle-playing man arrives, offering a certain end to the rat problem in exchange for a golden guilder. The villagers cannot pay.He gives them three days to pay him what is due. A search party that includes Rudi comes up empty, and by the time they return to the village, all the children have been lured away.

To save his friends (the village children), Rudi must confront the Brixen Witch. What he discovers in the witch's lair is an unexpected surprise...

This is a smart retelling of an old story. It has much to interest and intrigue young readers, and offers a realistic feel to each of the events, despite the presence of magic and mayhem. It will be a hit with those readers who love their fantasy mixed with realism.

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