Review of The Last Wild WitchBy Yupei Zhou
The Last Wild Witch
Mother Tongue Ink, 2009. ISBN 978-1890931599
I've never written a book review before in my life is one way to begin this review. I am a parent at Twin Oaks Community founded in 1967 as a behaviorist colony with a goal of total equality, non violence, and co-operation. from the beginning, our child care and education has selected books for our home schoolers very carefully. Often children's favorites were edited with White Out in a time when few books were inclusive and non-sexist, non racist and sending a message that felt good for our children's esteem and upbringing. Books like Corduroy would have the titles changed to Night watch person or sales person from "man". It was interesting to read these books in this way with the lens of a 1967 perspective. Nowadays we have the benefit of many books that can easily be read as acceptable in this way. One way that a children's book can be so good is that it can hide a message of hope and transformation in it's appeal to children's sensibilities. So often, I'm reading a book and I dislike how this is abused with regard to various political, religious or privileged messages. The Last Wild Witch addresses many of these problems. It sends a message about our dwindling forests colorfully. I think my favorite part of this book is the witch's white hair which is in strong contrast in value to the other colors in the illustrations. I think it is one of my favorite things when our elders embrace their greying and wild natures and can pass that self-acceptance to our children. Our elders know things and can teach things to young people I haven't learned yet. Also, I think The Last Wild Witch teaches good choices by showing and living, not just verbally. I think illustratively, I wanted to be able to tell what kinds of trees were in the forest and what kind of hawk flew above the mayor's head. I wondered if the weight of the color was intended to tell the reader or viewer/listener about the dangers ahead. The colors seemed to talk about the violence being done to our forests. For this reason, I wanted the end to show a lighter almost dawn time, but it feels like the book continues to be at night. Still, I think a forest can be so warm, nourishing and healing at night and I do think this is conveyed. The illustrations reminded me of the great Mexican muralists and the muralist paintings from the WPA during the 1930's in the U.S. (most of which were men, though many were women that are being more talked about) The shapes and flow could be so large over doorways or on ceilings. They also address the idea of multicultural and multiracial parts of our communities. For this reason, I wanted to know why they wanted to destroy the forest beyond the wildness of the witch. I think as a child I was frustrated by some things that seemed so arbitrary in fairy tales and now as an adult I think I felt condescended. For this reason, I would tell children that adults do want to destroy the forests not because of it's wildness but because of manifold reasons that a multicultural and multiracial society deals with. I wonder why the book didn't say that in part. I do think good children's books make us ask these questions, so that is good. I think there is a mystery in this book and I like that it makes me ask these questions.
The houses on our farm are situated in about 400 acres of hard wood forest which is primarily oak, hickory, beech, maple, sweet gum, holly, mountain laurel, hackberry, river birch. dogwood and so many other woods it's hard to list. A children's book about our forest would certainly show these majestic trees identifiably even if stylized. I think children's books are so hard to write well and to illustrate. The best are so simple and haunting in their simplicity and bareness. They can talk about complicated issues by the thousand tiny choices that make one image both written and painted. They stay in our minds permanently. My favorites have shaped how I think of reading and were my first introductions to images made by artists. children are transfixed by some books and will insist on reading them over and over. I like the message of this book so much, I wanted to read it to my daughter and have it join her favorites list. Perhaps when she's older as she is 3 now. I liked that the children in this book seem so self possessed and able to make their own choices. I think this often comes from the teachings of some people who want their children to make different choices. Parents can send mixed messages when teaching about nature and life but then teaching economic progress must involve destruction and exploitation. It's not surprising that we are experiencing the loss of our forests by the choices made by those before us and some still being made. We are losing forests not by logging now, but by fire, beetles, worms, blights and other forces which is scary to me as a worker with wood in many fashions. I have learned to make chairs from as much of the scrap from our firewood and sawmill scraps so our trees can be remembered and kept alive in our homes if only in small part. Still, I have mixed feelings about my work sometimes. Trees are such amazing organisms! Wood has such amazing behavior and spirit. For this reason, I'm thankful for books that teach co-operation with forests and the wisdom of our elders.