“Jackson vs. Witchy Wanda: Making Kid Soup.” By Belinda Anderson. Mountain State Press (2013). 182 pages.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There’s a new lady in town and she’s hungry!
Witchy Wanda doesn’t ride into town on a broom; rather, she pulls into town on a train.
No matter! She’s a bona fide witch and her plan is to entice children into her cauldron. They make tasty soups!
In Anderson’s first middle-grade novel, the author tells the tale of 10-year-old Jackson McKinney, who is the only one who sees right through Witchy Wanda’s ruse.
His task throughout the book is to gather evidence on Double W’s movements (as Jackson thinks of her) and to convince his classmates something funny is going on before they become munchies.
Set in the charming little town of imaginary Glasglen, West Virginia (modeled after Alderson), Jackson is a lonely little boy who nonetheless finds much resourcefulness and courage within himself as he battles the powerful Witchy Wanda.
Feeling somewhat outcast because he suffers hearing problems, other kids make fun of Jackson’s hearing apparatus and one bully in particular further picks on Jackson.
It doesn’t help that the local policeman, a potential ally, is determined to keep Jackson on the straight and narrow, but ultimately fails to help and nearly becomes soup himself.
Jackson also faces difficulties within his family. His parents question his actions, and Jackson feels he can’t confide in them. The only supporter in his household is his grandfather, who forgets a lot.
The grandfather gifts Jackson with a “lucky” Indian Head penny, making Jackson feel empowered — until he loses the penny to the bully.
Double W, meanwhile, uses Halloween as an excuse to lure the neighborhood children to her home and into her cauldron. She casts spells on them so that they willingly step into a hot pot of water.
Aware like no one else, Jackson has to stay on his toes to protect the classmates who can’t see Double W for what she is.
Mixed in with this bit of “fun” are real-life issues that each of us may identify with. There’s not one of us who hasn’t been bullied at some point in our lives. Jackson’s response is truly inspired as he works to keep the bully at bay and finds a most satisfying way to deal with the ridicule.
Although Alzheimer’s disease is not mentioned, even a young reader may recognize the troubles with Jackson’s grandfather, and maybe this story will help readers better understand what it means to live with a loved one who is forgetful.
Mystery builds upon mystery in this engaging tale. Witchy Wanda is pure fun — to the reader, that is. Not so much to the children in the story who are potential snacks. But older readers can appreciate the complex relationships developed in the story — lost family and connections help deepen the meaning of this engaging fiction.
It’s a thinking person’s wild ride but also one that is perfect fun for any time, but especially for the upcoming Halloween season.
“Witchy Wanda! Witchy Wanda! Making Kid Soup!”
Cat Pleska is a writer, educator and publisher. She is the president of Mountain State Press and an essayist at West Virginia Public Radio. Her website is www.catpleska.com, and she can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.