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Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Pomegrnate Witch, written by Denise Doyen and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 7 and up

"The Pomegranate War was on!
The troops made preparation;
They plotted how to storm the tree
in fruit-assault formation.

At noon, the watchcrow cawed,
The players took their places:
The Witch, she hunkered down;
the gang spread at twenty paces."

Here's a story with wonderful appeal, and a great read aloud style. Its impressive, atmospheric language requires those who want to share it to take the time to read it once or twice before doing so.

Five kids in a battle with an old woman - the witch who guards the pomegranate tree and its luscious fruit. A bike ride leads a young boy to first set eyes on it.

"And before its sagging porch, amid a weedy foxtail sea.
Found the scary, legendary, haunted pomegranate tree.

The gnarled tree loomed high and wide;
 its branches scraped the ground.
Beneath there was a fort, of sorts,
with leafed walls all around.
Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like,
dirt ripplesnaked with roots,
But glorious were the big, red, round,
ripe pomegranate fruits."

The boy and his friends make plans to steal the fruit despite the constant presence of the woman they dub the Pomegranate Witch. Unseen, but clearly present, the children believe all the many warnings they have heard about her. But, they are brave and they WANT that fruit. What must the five of them to do to achieve success? As they stealthily approach, she shouts out a warning:

"Now, hear this! Pomegranate Gang,
I see you in your ditch!
High noon! Tomorrow!" double-dared
the Pomegranate Witch.
Shocked and scared - caught by surprise -
the gang froze, firmly rooted;
Then one, then three, then five stood tall -
and all of them saluted."

Obviously, it is not just the fruit that is luscious. I read it once, and then read again. Now, as I write this post, I am going over and over certain phrases and descriptions to remind myself of the rhythm and meaning in the wonderful text. I can only imagine the pictures it must have conjured for Eliza Wheeeler as she read it repeatedly while working on her magical watercolor images. It is a stunning collaboration, and worthy of reading in classrooms as Halloween approaches, or at any other time of year. The more often you read it, the more surprised you will be by its beautifully chosen language and inspired art.

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