I’ll tell you what’s not a secret: my absolute adoration of Picklewitch and Jack. I loved the first two books in this fun chapter book series (reviews here and here), and their third adventure more than lives up to the hype!
Book: Picklewitch & Jack and the Sea-Wizard’s Secret by Claire Barker, illustrated by Teemu Juhani
Read before: No
Publication date: 4th March 2021
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Faber (I also pre-ordered a copy myself). All opinions my own.
Picklewitch and Jack are going on holiday! Jack’s school has organised a trip to the seaside to meet Jack’s hero, phenomenal fossil hunter Dr Firenza Sharptooth – and she’s offering a prize for the best fossil found on the trip. He’s raring to go, but Picklewitch really doesn’t see the point of leaving home. Her grump threatens to ruin the holiday, until the two best friends run into a Sea Wizard, Scowling Margaret, and things start to get excitingly magical. Maybe this fossil competition isn’t all it seems…
If you grew up on long-running chapter book series, you’ll remember there were often a few summer holiday books which took the characters out of their normal environments in order to shake things up a little, and that’s exactly what happens here. Even though I’m reading this series as an adult, and I haven’t been to the seaside in years, something about this holiday instalment made me really excited for summer, so I can only imagine its effect on a child who actually gets a long summer holiday! Of course, this isn’t your ordinary beach visit – things may start out in that nostalgic way, but they soon end up full of joyful chaos in the way that only Picklewitch can manage. I really enjoyed the glimpses into witchly etiquette that we learn about from the interactions with the Sea Wizard; I love that it’s the law you have to provide cake to a visiting witch!
Picklewitch is on fine form, with her wild behaviour and wilder hair that we know and love. I really enjoy the clash between Jack’s view of normality and Picklewitch’s preference for chaotic freedom – though they’re best friends, there’s a tension that often comes up between them which really helps to show that both of them can be too set in their ways. Sometimes books that have the theme of compromise can be a little saccharine and heavy-handed, but there’s a real ease to the way Picklewitch and Jack learn to give each other a little slack, which I think speaks to how great the characterisation is. You can see how they’ve developed already from the previous books, but not so much that readers starting here would be lost. There’s also a central theme of respecting nature – something Picklewitch is very big on from the beginning, but it really comes to the fore in this book once they discover the Sea Wizard’s secret. Add to that the fact that it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and you have a recipe for a wonderful read.
As with the previous instalments, Teemu Juhani’s wonderful illustrations bring so much humour and life to the pages – there’s one illustration of Picklewitch climbing down an ivy-clad wall that I think might be my favourite yet! I particularly loved the depictions of the barnacle-covered Sea Wizard, who’s as detailedly messy as Picklewitch but in a very different way, and of Dr Sharptooth, who oozes style and menace in equal measure, from her velvet cloak to her pointy boots – “a beautiful and brilliant science-pirate”, Jack calls her, and it’s so true! Also wonderful are the extras at the back of the book, which are clippings from Picklewitch’s grimoire, including a page of terrible sea jokes, some great spells, and even hints on keeping your swimming costume comfy. These are the sorts of things that really fired my imagination as a kid, and I love to see them included.
This is another utterly brilliant outing for my favourite pair of bizarre best friends – I wish there could be a dozen more adventures for them! I adore Picklewitch and Jack. Five out of five cats!