“Young children don’t perceive reality the way adults do…which gives them real creative freedom…and that freedom can lead to the best kinds of magic.”
Witches of Brooklyn
Sophie Escabasse (Writer and Illustrator)
September 1, 2020
After she is sent to live with her aunts after her mother’s death, Effie learns that they are more than they claim to be. By profession, they are well-respected ‘naturalists’ — or herbalists — who help people through the use of plants, but more than that, they are also witches who know so much more than people perceive.
Sophie Escabasse’s The Witches of Brooklyn packs a ton of energy, wit, and verve into its pages as she creates a magical world that is not contrived but instead feels fresh, sweet, and touching. Effie struggles with being the new kid in school and making a new life with her aunts, quite clearly grieving when she arrives at her new home. Yet she soon finds comfort with these two older women, and they all learn they have more in common than first perceived. This leads to some funny dialogue. While Selimene is calm and collected, Carlota has a similar temperament to her niece, which allows for some nice toe-to-toe, quick-fire conversations that remain highly entertaining throughout the book’s duration.
Things really take off when Effie’s powers awaken, made known through her glowing fingertips, and that she, like her aunts, is a witch. As she explores her new powers and new life, her aunts are approached to assist the hottest pop star on the planet whose face has turned a bright shade of tomato red. Discovering that her idol is not the easiest person on the planet to get along with leads to an interesting discussion between separating the art from the artist, as Effie soon encounters her first ‘problematic fave.’
What’s especially beautiful is the representation present on the pages. Witches of Brooklyn features a wide range of characters–POC, queer, old, young–who are all fully fleshed out and have a part to play in the storyline. It’s always welcome to see representations of spirited older women who are every bit as energetic as their younger counterparts, and not as closed off to the world as many people believe. They may not know who kid’s favourite pop star is, but they aren’t technophobes who are rooted in the past: even witches need their smartphones and the internet.
While Escabasse’s script keeps the tempo lively and clear, her illustrations really make the book pop. The aunts’ home is filled with plants, patterned furniture, books (they have the library of my dreams), their purple cat (or is it a dog?), and a basement where they practice magic. And I might add that the aunts both have great style, especially Carlota with her very enviable earrings. The floor map to their home is a quite brilliant addition, allowing the reader to explore their home as Effie explores it for herself.
Fundamentally, Witches of Brooklyn is about discovering your true path in life, something explored through the oldest form of witchcraft, a type of natural magic the aunts refer to as ‘clear magic.’ You can apply many potions and conduct rituals but at the end of the day the clearest, oldest magic will always be the most effective: authenticity leads to happiness.