A wonderfully witchy picture book that cleverly handles a protagonist who’s too nervous to talk – I loved this sweet and heart-warming story!
Book: Wanda’s Words Got Stuck by Lucy Rowland, illustrated by Paula Bowles
Read before: No
Publication date: 3rd September 2020.
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Nosy Crow Books. All opinions my own.
You should know by now that I’ll never turn down the chance to review something cute and witchy in any age range, and Wanda’s Words Got Stuck is exactly my cup of tea! This is a sweet story of a little witch who is too nervous to speak, preferring to remain silent even when those around her are chatting, shouting, or casting spells – but when her best friend Flo gets into trouble at the school magic contest, can Wanda find the words to save her? Written by a speech and language therapist, this book explores the difficulty Wanda has with her anxiety around speech in a really wonderful way, offering a fun and exciting story with a strong theme of acceptance, and a rollicking rhyming rhythm.
This is one of my favourite picture books I’ve read as an adult! The story is a delight to read aloud, with faultless rhythm and rhyme. It’s slightly more complex than some picture books, with some vocab that may be a little unusual, but nothing too strenuous. There’s lots of fun formatting, with loud words popping up large and bold, and plenty of dramatic pauses, so you can really get into the excitement listening to it. The illustrations are lovely – a warm, scribbly style that feels really vibrant and alive – and I loved the little details of the witches’ classroom, filled with jars of dragon droppings and sunbeams, cauldrons, pegs with hanging cloaks, and even adorable spiders (fellow arachnophobes, fear not, they are genuinely cute). The characters are nicely diverse, and even the unnamed ones have a really clear sense of personality, but best of all is Wanda herself. Her expressions are fantastic – from determination to overwhelming anxiety to friendliness, it’s always easy to see what Wanda is thinking (which in itself, cleverly backs up the book’s theme that ‘sometimes you don’t need words at all’).
It’s a gentle and accepting book – Wanda’s quietness is never made into an issue. She’s not labelled as having any particular diagnosis or speech issue, nor do the teacher or other children give her a hard time about her reluctance to speak. She’s shown as being perfectly capable of making friends even if she doesn’t speak, which is lovely. She just is how she is, and though she feels nervous when she has to speak, she certainly isn’t under any outside pressure to ‘fit in’ by being noisy! Though the underlying plot is about accepting your quirks rather than fixing them, it certainly isn’t dull. There’s plenty of excitement, with the magic contest offering an ever-increasing array of animals which leap to life on the page. The lion and the dragon are vivid and thrilling, especially in how bright they are and how much of the page they take up! The threat of the dragon really makes the stakes feel high, which is a great way to show how nerve-wracking speaking up can be for shy children or those with speech issues. The resolution is lovely, too – Wanda learns that she can speak up when it’s necessary, but that it’s totally fine if she’s quiet when she wants to be. It’s really touching how she is able to accept her own quietness by the end of the book, helped hugely by the loving acceptance of those around her.
I just really loved this one, and am going to look forward to it every time it comes out to be read. It’s so easy for a book about ‘issues’ to be a bit heavy-handed, but this one is subtle, sweet, and quietly effective, with a lovely theme tied up in an exciting story. I’m definitely going to be recommending this one to anyone who asks! Five out of five (witch’s) cats!