Stories of magic and mischief, especially in comic form, are ripe for gimmicks. The Lunch Witch, by Deb Lucke, with its intended youthful audience and central supernatural character, has all the elements to get very gimmicky very quick, but skillfully avoids those pitfalls while still being an enjoyable and just-wacky-enough ride to keep you drawn in.
How does it do so? Well, first there’s the story. Grunhilda, a big, bad, threatening witch is out of work. People just don’t need witches to do their dirty work anymore. So she gets a job as a school lunch lady, one of the only jobs where the ingredients are nearly as disgusting as witches brew. A bit green to the world of today’s children, she quickly gets into trouble with a less-than-stellar student named Madison who tries to blackmail her. Grunhilda retaliates with punishment, turning Madison into a toad. Grunhilda spends the rest of the book frantically and humorously trying to return Madison to her human form. The clever thing about The Lunch Witch is that it doesn’t suggest that Madison didn’t deserve her amphibian fate, or that Grunhilda should reform and become a kinder, gentler witch, but neither does it propose that it is unequivocally right to be a bad witch or a sneaky little twerp. The moral ambiguity, the unreliable main characters, and the dark comedy of potions, spells, and school lunch will excite the imaginations of children and adults alike, without veering too far into the silly or over-serious.
This feeling of overarching strangeness is enhanced by the fantastic visual style of the book. It’s printed on a greyish green background, with spots and stains as though someone had been eating a gross school lunch while reading (or drawing?) it. Furthermore, the wavy, shaky depiction of both the human characters and Grunhilda’s witchy world create a feeling of a world of uncertainty and unpredictability that gives the book an exciting tension. It’s really a pleasure, carefully constructed with both an adolescent audience and Lucke’s own creative aspirations taken fully into account.
At the risk of oversimplifying what is an enjoyable and surprisingly intricate little tale, the basic idea of this story is that even the worst witch among us has a little kernel of kindness, and what matters is not that she completely embrace that, but that she uses it well while staying true to herself. Its particular appeal for young readers lies in the fact that the weird awkward outsiders, Grunhilda and Madison both, are celebrated for their strangeness, and don’t become something sweeter or more appealing in the end, even if they do learn just a bit of a lesson. Weirdness rules and The Lunch Witch is a gleeful celebration of it.
The Lunch Witch, volume 1
by Deb Lucke
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10