Molly Knox Ostertag
Who says that a boy can’t be a witch? Aster is born into a family of magic, but his family has strict rules about what boys versus girls can do with their powers. All boys must become shapeshifters and all girls must become witches. But Aster doesn’t want to be a shapeshifter, Aster wants to be a witch.
While Aster’s male peers continue to excel at shapeshifting as they get older, Aster can’t seem to get it down. He spends his free time spying on the witchery lessons the girls attend, and finds that he is good at casting spells. It seems unfair to him that he can’t pursue what he wants and what he is good at solely because of his gender.
During this tumultuous time, Aster meets a kind, non-magical girl named Charlie. Aster and Charlie develop a bond very quickly, and Charlie is very encouraging about Aster pursuing witchery. While their friendship develops, a mysterious danger threatens the other boys in Aster’s family, and he realizes they might just need his witch magic after all.
The graphic novel has a profound message about the socially constructed chains we live in as a society because of gender. While this book uses magic as a metaphor, it is easy to draw the link to real-life gender norms such as boy/girl colors, job roles, gender roles, and other ways humans put men and women into boxes. It is written as a great early introduction to kids about gender norms and how it is normal to enjoy doing something society tells you is only meant for the “other” gender. It is also a perfect book to spark discussions about gender in general.
On top of the great commentary, this graphic novel is just an amazing story overall. The world is interesting, the characters are dynamic and fascinating, and the illustrations are gorgeous. The illustrator makes great use of color to set the tone of scenes and emphasize characters’ emotions. There is a strong theme of family in the story and it explores the good and the bad aspects of a close-knit traditional family. It is fascinating to hear the family background presented in the story and how that plays into the norms the children are expected to follow. You will fall in love with Aster and Charlie’s friendship, and will keep turning the pages as you wait to see how the mystery of the story unfolds. This is a well-written, well-illustrated, educational, entertaining graphic novel that will absolutely leave you wanting more.
CRITICS HAVE SAID
- “With charming artwork, interesting supporting characters, natural-feeling diversity, and peeks of a richly developed world, this book leaves readers wishing for more.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review
- “Ostertag’s bright, gentle, cartoonlike artwork brims with life and adds extra appeal to this fast-moving story. An excellent choice for reluctant readers, fans of fantasy, and those looking for books that explore gender roles.” – School Library Journal, starred review
- “Thrilling and sweet. Ostertag is one of comics’ brightest new voices.” – Hope Larson, author of Compass South
IF YOU LOVE THIS BOOK, THEN TRY:
- The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag, 2018
- The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, 2018
- The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill, 2020