Books Message in a Bottle Picture Book Challenge 2011 Picture Books Reading Themes

A Familiar’s Dilemma: The Rumblewick Letters by Hiawyn Oram and Sarah Warburton

PictureBook Reading Challenge: 15 of 72

Have you ever met a witch who wishes to be a princess? Who prefers “watching telly” and retail therapy to scaring the wits off children and using bats’ wings and newt’s eyes for odd potions? If you haven’t then you’d be keen to meet Haggy Aggy (or H.A.), the witch of Rumblewick Spellwacker Mortimer B (RB for short). I recall seeing this book at the NIE library several months back and I made sure to borrow and reread it for our Message in a Bottle Bimonthly Theme.

The entire book consists of correspondences between RB, a Familiar and his Uncle Sherbet who provides him valuable guidance and advice as to what he should do with his “unwilling witch.” Essentially, this is RB’s trouble:

What to do indeed if your Witch is more into the Prince-thing and all that Teenager Stuff than concentrating on being scary and horrid.

Interactive Quality and the Vibrant Illustrations. One of the

Kids would have a lot of fun opening this - with the cutesie bloody stamp

good things going for this book is how the young reader would have a chance to open the letters, read the spells as suggested by the very wise and experienced Uncle Sherbet, and yes read them out loud – who knows, it could actually work! That is, if you happen to have fresh slug slimes or hatching frog spawns in your backyard or in your fridge.


Another letter from Uncle Sherbet which details the requirements for "The Further Uglifying Spell" - definitely not something you'd like to tamper with

H.A.’s Naivete Blended with Starry-eyed Petulance – A Happy ever After Witch-Style. Haggy Aggy’s character was not quite as developed if we compare it to Rumblewick whose list of apprehensions, anxieties and concerns make his character more textured and solidified in nature. She struck me as a playful, naive, yet quite given to tantrums kind of girl – not really very smart, not so nice either, but a little on the gullible side – with her Familiar (RB) always always getting the better of her.


Haggy Aggy's Love Note to the Prince - or a RansomNote without the cash? More like a Demand for a Happy-ever after: Shotgun Wedding!

What amused me was when Haggy Aggy disguised herself as a pot plant and listened to a “crocodile of children” who happened to be in the library for Story Time. Apparently the stories centered on fairy tales and happily ever after with princesses and princes – and H.A. got it in her head that the local palace prince should come down to meet her. This was a demand, you see. This is what the “LoveNote” written in a pink heart stationery with stickers no less, says:

Meet me without fail at 47 flicks of a snake’s tongue after midnight in the clearing in the woods of Wizton-under-Wold. (Do not bring your mother or a bodyguard.) Do this if you are interested in marrying me – a TRULY beautiful princess with glassy slippers.

Yours in waiting, Princess H. Agatha

PS: If you do not show up I’ll get a witch I know (not very well) to turn you into a hairy toad.

Haggy Aggy trying on a variety of Princess outfits, practicing her posture, and trying on dance slippers and a tiara

Now isn’t that romantic? A truly unique marriage proposal if I ever saw one. Needless to say our Rumblewick is at the end of his wits. He tried out a variety of Uglifying Spells (with the help of Uncle Sherbet), Turning Coaches into a Rocking Horse (with the help of his best friend Grimey, the Familiar to the Witch Understairs next door) – and yes managing to convince our seemingly-witless H.A. that a Rocking Horse in place for a Coach is the “in” thing among Princesses nowadays – everything to sabotage the date with the Prince.

To Rumblewick’s dismay, however, the Prince was besotted! Despite the uglifying spell and the rocking horse in the woods, the Prince went all gooey-eyed.


Truly a match made in Heaven

He said he’d never met a princess so different. He said, “Warts? What warts?” He said, “Toenails growing so fast they crack the toes of dance slippers? Wicked.” He said “The electrified hair look? Stunning.”

Whether or not this ends happily ever after like most fairy tales I shall leave for you to discover.

One caveat though, while rich in lovely illustrations and witty in its narrative – it does not have the depth of say The Meerkat Mail of Emily Gravett which I reviewed for our Illustrator Sketchpad section onceuponatime or even the interactive laugh-out-loud quality of Gravett’s Spells (coming soon in our BehindtheBooks section). It is certain to be a hit though with young kids – and provides them with a beautiful and colorful alternative to helpless Princesses who wait for the Prince to ask their hand in marriage. Haggy Aggy definitely knows what she wants (and does not want) as the ending would show you.

If you wish to follow Rumblewick’s adventures, I noted that this book has a sequel with Rumblewick and the Dinner Dragons. It also has an 8-book series with Rumblewick’s Diary (My Unwilling Witch Goes to Ballet School, My Unwilling Witch Gets Cooking, My Unwilling With Gets a Makeover – to cite a few).

The author Hiawyn Oram is said to have been brought up in South Africa and was a professional actor before she moved to England. She has also received quite a number of awards in recognition of her work such as the UK Smarties Prize shortlist for The Second Princess (source here) and her Angry Arthur which won the Japanese Picture Book Award in 1988 (source here). Click here to be taken to the Rumblewick’s Author page and know more about her.

The illustrator Sarah Warburton has been illustrating children’s books for the past 15 years. She is said to use a combination of pencil sketches, digital colour and traditional pen and ink in her art work. She currently lives in Briston England. If you wish to know more about her work and how to contact her, click on this link to be taken to her official website.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

7 comments on “A Familiar’s Dilemma: The Rumblewick Letters by Hiawyn Oram and Sarah Warburton

  1. Sounds like a charming book!


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Thank you for visiting. Yes it is. Haggy Aggy could definitely use some wits, yes, but I suppose that’s part of her charm – otherwise Rumblewick would be out of a job keeping her out of trouble.


  2. Such a lovely picture book! The illustrations are beautiful to the eyes. And I do love interactive letters. They add authenticity to the story and allow you to actively take part in it. Lovely post. =)


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Thank you beautiful. That’s true. The illustrations are beautiful. I’m sure you’d enjoy it if you find it in one of your libraries in San Diego. I particularly like how smitten the Prince was over Haggy Aggy – his descriptions of HA above sounded very Brit indeed. Haha.


  3. What a nice blog ! I love it…


  4. Pingback: February Round-Up: Reading through the Month of Love and Announcement of 1st batch of Whodunit Winners |

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