Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: The Witch's Buttons by Ruth Chew

Reading the books I missed during my childhood awoke in me a great sense of nostalgia for something I did read then. And as a true book hoarder, I still have my copies of many of the books I lovingly accumulated from the Scholastic fliers in school. It is rare that I see my own children interested in something from "so long ago" and so these books sit on the kid book shelves fondly remembered but untouched by the short philistines I am apparently raising. So I decided that I needed to re-read one of the books I remember delighting my younger self so much. Being contrary, I didn't want it to be a book that pretty much everyone remembered reading so I scrounged through my long neglected kid books and finally unearthed Ruth Chew's The Witch's Buttons. I loved this book. It had so much potential and allowed for such flights of fancy, even after the last page was turned. And I can tell you I have always had a button basket ever since I read this book. It obviously fired my imagination as a child and continued to influence small things in my adult life so it was the perfect candidate for a re-read.

As I mentioned, this is my original copy of the book. And not only does it have a story that has stayed with me too many years later to count, but the physical book itself offers clues to the child I was. On the front inside cover in my schoolgirl cursive, I wrote my name. Given that it's in cursive, that probably means I read this in second or third grade, when we first learned such fancy pants writing. Even better than the badge of ownership, in the back, I created my own library due date and pocket for the book. It's made out of lined notebook paper and it looks like the book was never checked out of my library since no one else ever signed the slip. (I'm still reluctant to loan books as a matter of fact.) I have clearly been a book nut (or completely warped) from a young age, in case just *having* my original copies of the books wasn't proof enough! Should I admit that I carefully put the homemade due date slip back in the pocket and aligned it neatly with the fading around it? The back inside cover of the book, with its library addition looks like when a picture is removed from a wall and the shadow of its presence remains. I love that I got a quick glimpse at a me I only half remember just by opening the cover of the book.

The story of The Witch's Buttons is also a charming one and would likely hold up fairly well for kids today. Sandy has lost the button off of her brand new coat and while retracing her steps looking for it, she runs into Janet, a girl who is slightly annoying but who tells Sandy that her mother most likely has a match for Sandy's missing button in her button bag. Although the bag yields no match for Sandy, it does have a strange button shaped like a little Pilgrim man and Janet allows Sandy to keep it. Pocketing the button, the girls hurry to the trimming store to buy a button for Sandy's coat. When they get there they find a little gray-haired woman asking about unusual buttons. She is disappointed in her quest but when Sandy goes to pay for her common gold button, she mistakenly pulls the strange button out of her pocket and the woman is intrigued. But Sandy has already decided that her button is magic and she and Janet run home to try and evade the woman.

The woman eventually offers them five dollars for the button, telling the girls that it is an antique but once Sandy discovers that the button is alive and is indeed magic like she thought, they want to keep it. But witches always get what they want, right? And the girls drop the button, a kitten snatches it and runs off, and they end up at the witch's house watching in horror as she drops the button in a steaming cauldron. Out of the concoction comes a fully grown man in a bad mood who chastizes the witch for her carelessness in turning him into a button centuries ago. And this is just the start of the adventure.

The book is short. An adult will read it in no time flat. But it is charming and despite a few brief tense bits, there's nothing here that will scare a child. Betsy, the witch is kindly, her brother Silas is crabby, and Sandy and Janet get to have a marvelous adventure and start a friendship all because of a button (or three). The plot is the thing here and it moves along offering new surprises and enchantments around every corner. I never did read any others of Chew's books but this definitely has the feel of a series and after reliving the sweetness of the this one, I am hoping I'm correct in thinking there will be more button adventures for Sandy and Janet. Maybe I'll try to tempt my kids to read the book despite all of them being well past it in terms of reading level by getting out my little button basket and sorting through it before casually mentioning the book. This one will always be a keeper in my house.


  1. I wish I had kept more of the books I had when I was younger.

  2. OHMIGOD I compeletly forgot about this book, but I read it as a kid too! As soon as you mention the button shaped like a pilgrim it clicked into place. I love rereading childhood faves.

  3. OMG! I LOVE Ruth Chew's books! These are definitely part of what got me started on my love of mysteries! Thanks for bringing back some awesome reading memories! Love it! :)

  4. The Wednesday Witch and What the Witch Left were too of my favorite's as a child. I, too, still have my original copies with my own private library info written inside (Evidently someone could borrow mine for two weeks.) I guess all young book-worms think alike. :)

    Wish I had known that there were so many more to treasure. That's what grandkids are for!

  5. Fantastic post Kristen! I've never heard of Ruth Chew or her books, but I'll look out for them now, though I see that it is out of print on Amazon. I'm impressed that you have so many of your old Scholastic books. I have quite a few books of my childhood. I really want to reread them sometime but have never worked up the nerve.

  6. This sounds so good. I love all my books I grew up and am still collecting the original Nancy Drews. :)

  7. I have fond memories of book fair days in elementary school, but I can't remember a single book I bought. Book fairs for my kids have been filled with more toys than books, so I doubt my kids will remember anything they bought, either.


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