Earwig and the Witch is for younger middle grade readers and is a very slim read, but it packs a lot in a few short pages. In fact, I'm pretty sure you will find yourself wishing for a sequel once you hit the last page. In her signature style, Jones pops magic into a rather ordinary contemporary world. Meet Earwig, a girl who was left at the orphanage as a baby with the following note:
Got the other twelve witches all chasing me. I'll be back for her when I've shook them off. It may take years. Her name is Earwig.
The Matron promptly changed the baby's name to Erica, but it turned back to Earwig easily enough.
Earwig's best friend is a timid boy named Custard. Earwig does not want to be adopted, considering she has the whole orphanage running just how she likes it. So she is not pleased when she is adopted—by a towering man with horns only she can see and a woman with a "raggety, ribby look to her face."
Sure enough, the man is really a Mandrake and the woman is a witch looking for cheap labor. When Earwig figures out that Bella Yaga has no intention of teaching her any magic, she sets out to rearrange things. Then readers will start to understand that Earwig didn't control the orphanage with boring old magic, but by being a very clever child. Of course, it helps that she has a magic cat to help her in her new abode. (A close read will reveal glimpses of the Baba Yaga story in the bones of this one.) Here's Earwig's first supper with the Mandrake:
To Earwig's surprise, the kitchen was an ordinary kitchen, quite warm and cozy... Earwig looked at the Mandrake. He was looming in a chair at the end of the table, reading a large leather book. He looked like an ordinary man in a bad temper. Even so, he did not look like a man who would have gotten supper ready.
"And what have the demons brought us today?" Bella Yaga asked in the bright, wheedling voice she always seemed to use to the Mandrake.
"Pie and chips from Stoke-on-Trent station buffet," the Mandrake growled, without looking up.
"I hate station pie," said Bella Yaga.
The Mandrake looked up . His eyes were like dark pits. A spark of red fire glowed, deep down in each pit. "It's my favorite food," he said. The sparks in his eyes flickered and grew.
Earwig quite understood then why she was not to disturb the Mandrake.
The book has pen-and-ink illustrations by Caldecott winner Paul O. Zelinsky. They are a bit twisty and often show Earwig scowling, but then, she is a witch girl. (Her face does soften when she's petting Thomas the cat.) My favorite piece is an entire spread showing a sort of time-lapse look at Earwig rushing around the witch's workroom working on a spell—we see 11 versions of Earwig by my count.
Earwig and the Witch could have been longer, it could happily have been three books about Earwig instead of just one, but it's not. Still, Earwig and the Witch is something very nice indeed: the treasure of one last satisfying read from the marvelous Ms. Jones.
Note: I have included both the British and U.S. covers for your reference (above left and above right, respectively). Which do you like best?