Salem Hyde isn’t like everyone else. She’s an independent, slightly stubborn, and impulsive young girl. Oh, and she’s a witch who is quite good at coming up with spells off the top of her head, thank you very much! So what if she can’t spell some words correctly and “wail” becomes “whale?” No one really noticed that whale floating around the school, did they? Oh…they did. Well, errrmm… Thankfully she has a new friend around to help her out, Lord Percival J. Whamsford III (Whammy). Oh, yes, and he’s a cat that can talk! He’s around for at least a week to see if things will work out for him as Salem’s helper and if not, both walk away cleanly. And it’s not like anything big can happen in a week…can it?
When I hear the words “young witch” along with “independent and headstrong,” my mind immediately goes to the wonderful film Kiki’s Delivery Service and that’s where I start my comparison for this story. And while Salem doesn’t have quite the depth that Kiki does, it has the same type of warmth, charm, and sense of humor. Frank Cammuso has been one of my favorite authors for a while now with his excellent series Knights of the Lunch Table, which is in part about learning to be yourself. And although this series is just beginning, it seems set to follow the same path. Frank has created a story that isn’t only about Salem’s spelling (or lack thereof); it’s really about the friendship that develops between Salem and Whammy over the course of the story. Together, they can learn from each other and become stronger for it. This is one of my favorite parts of any good story: seeing two characters come together in friendship and have it be natural. That’s something that is very difficult for a lot of writers to do, but Frank makes this emerging friendship between Salem and Whammy happen without us even noticing until the very end.
This is also a great story for motivating kids to spell words correctly, with hilarious visual depictions of what can happen if you don’t. I know that if I had had this book growing up, it would have had me laughing out loud at how different spelling mistakes could cause so much chaos. I mean, can you imagine if you had been told that one little spelling mistake could turn your crossing guard into a dinosaur? Granted, I probably would have tried to make these types of mistakes once in a while…just to see what would happen. Research, of course.
One of the things that I associate the most with Frank’s books are the cheerful and engaging characters he creates, and Salem and Whammy are no exceptions. Even with a two-toned color palette, green and black, Frank manages to make Salem and Whammy dance across the page. The character design reminds me a great deal of the whimsy and warmth of Calvin & Hobbes, with a dash of mischievousness mixed in.
All in all, this seems like a great first book to a new series that will encourage readers to dream big and demonstrates how spelling correctly can make a “whale” of a difference. Similar type books would be: Knights of the Lunch Table; Lunch Lady; Babymouse; and Odd Duck.