by Clay Bonnyman Evans
Illustrated by Robert Bender
About the book:
Stephen is dreading Christmas now that his parents are divorced and he, his sister, and father are living in a new home with his new Jewish stepmother and stepbrother. After a skirmish between Stephen’s dog, Dewey, and his step family’s cat Stephen leaves the house in a huff, Dewey in tow. While the pair is out, they encounter an elderly neighbor, who teaches Stephen an unforgettable lesson about family and the real meaning of the winter holidays.
About the author:
Clay Bonnyman Evans
was raised in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. He spent seven years working as a cowboy on ranches around the West before becoming a journalist. The Winter Witch was inspired in part by winter walks in the mountains west of Boulder, where he was raised. He now lives in Niwot, Colorado, with his wife and stepson, four dogs, four cats, three ducks, a chicken and two frogs.
About the illustrator:
worked in editorial illustration for many years before becoming a children’s book author and illustrator. His illustration credits for Holiday House include The Chizzywink and the Alamagoozlum by Tony Johnston and Swine Divine by Jan Carr. Publisher’s Weekly has said that his animals “seem as though they could pop right off the page.” He lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife and daughter, at least ten cats and two geese.
- What inspired this story?
I USED TO LIVE IN THE MOUNTAINS, A CANYON NEAR BOULDER, WHERE I WALKED MY DOG, HOBO, UP THE STREAM TO A SMALL POND BELONGING TO MY NEIGHBOR, PAM PENFOLD. I SAW ALL KINDS OF WILDLIFE THERE (NO LIONS, ALAS) AND SKATED ON THE POND IN WINTER. IT WAS REALLY THE SETTING THAT SPURRED THE STORY INTO EXISTENCE, BUT I ALSO WANTED TO OFFER A MESSAGE OF CO-EXISTENCE BETWEEN MANY BELIEF SYSTEMS AND RESPECT FOR NATURE.
- What’s the best part about writing for children?
IN ALL HONESTY, I DID NOT WRITE THE STORY SPECIFICALLY FOR CHILDREN. IT WAS WRITTEN FOR AN IN-HOUSE CONTEST AT THE NEWSPAPER WHERE I WORK, THE DAILY CAMERA. I WON THE CONTEST, AND THE STORY – AT TWICE THIS LENGTH – WAS PUBLISHED FOR THREE YEARS RUNNING AT CHRISTMAS. AN ACQUAINTANCE OF MINE WHO IS AN EXCELLENT CHILDREN’S BOOK ILLUSTRATOR AND WRITER, JANET STEVENS, SUGGESTED I TRY TO PUBLISH THE BOOK. SHE HELPED ME FIND HOLIDAY HOUSE, THE PUBLISHER. AFTER I SOLD THE BOOK, WE CUT IT BY MORE THAN HALF AND SIMPLIFIED SOME THINGS TO MAKE IT MORE APPROPRIATE FOR A YOUNGER AUDIENCE. BUT I HAVE REALLY ENJOYED MEETING YOUNG READERS SINCE PUBLISHING THE BOOK.
- How do you know whether an idea is worth pursuing?
I JUST START WRITING, AND SEE WHERE IT LEADS ME. OFTEN, I WILL WRITE A WHOLE STORY, OR EVEN PART OF A BOOK, BEFORE I REALIZE IT ISN’T GOING TO WORK. THEN I HAVE TO GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD, SO TO SPEAK, AND SEE WHETHER TO RETOOL IT, OR GO ON TO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
- What advice would you give young writers?
FIRST, READ A LOT. THIS IS HOW YOU WILL INTERNALIZE HOW WORDS WORK TOGETHER, HOW LANGUAGE FLOWS. SECOND, WRITE A LOT. THIS IS A PURSUIT THAT FEW PEOPLE EXCEL AT WITHOUT A LOT OF PRACTICE. THIRD, DON’T BE AFRAID TO WRITE POORLY AT FIRST – REWRITING IS MORE THAN HALF THE JOB OF WRITING, AND IF YOU ARE TOO CAREFUL ABOUT GETTING IT JUST RIGHT ON THE FIRST ATTEMPT, YOU MAY KILL THE PASSION THAT WILL MAKE YOUR WRITING SOAR. AND MOSTLY, HAVE FUN. IF YOU AREN’T HAVING FUN WHILE WRITING, YOU SHOULD FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO!
- What can your fans look forward to next?
WELL, I HAD NOT NECESSARILY PLANNED TO DO ANOTHER CHILDREN’S BOOK, BUT I HAVE CONSIDERED WRITING A BOOK ABOUT OUR CRIPPLED CAT, SCOOTER. HE IS QUITE AMAZING. BECAUSE HIS MOTHER WAS SICK WITH DISTEMPER BEFORE HE WAS BORN, HE CAN’T PROPERLY USE HIS BACK LEGS. HE WOBBLES WHEN HE WALKS AND FALLS DOWN ALL THE TIME. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? HE DOESN’T KNOW HE’S ‘DISABLED,’ AND HE LEADS A GREAT LIFE. HE’S VERY COURAGEOUS (AND SOMETIMES GRUMPY) AND ADVENTUROUS AND LOVING, DESPITE HIS LIMITATIONS. I THINK HE IS A GREAT EXAMPLE. I ALSO HAVE MANY ‘BIG PEOPLE’ BOOKS THAT I STILL WANT TO WRITE, BOTH FICTION AND NONFICTION.
- How did you develop your unique style?
MY STYLE HAS GONE THROUGH MANY TWISTS AND TURNS SINCE MY EARLY DAYS IN COLLEGE. THE STYLE WHICH I’M KNOWN FOR USES CELL VINYL PAINT (ANIMATION PAINT). IN COLLEGE I LEARNED THE TRADITIONAL WAY OF USING IT. YEARS LATER I DEVELOPED AN UNORTHODOX METHOD OF PAINTING ON THE FRONT AND BACK OF ACETATE WITH STENCIL BRUSHES (THEY HAVE A FLAT HEAD) THEN I BACK IT WITH BLACK PAPER TO MAKE THE BRIGHT COLORS POP OUT. I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED COLLAGE, AND NOW THAT I’M WORKING ON THE COMPUTER, THE ABILITY TO INCORPORATE PICTURES AND PHOTOGRAPHS HAS ADDED A WHOLE NEW ELEMENT.
- What do you use to create your art?
- How do you decide on the palette for a book?
WHEN I LOOK AT A NEW STORY I ENJOY THE CHALLENGE OF CREATING A UNIQUE PALETTE TO SUIT THE MOOD OF IT. IT OFTEN DEPENDS ON THE PARTICULARS OF THE STORY (DAY OR NIGHT, INSIDE OR OUT, WARM OR COLD, ETC.) I ALSO DON’T WANT THE BOOK TO BE CONFUSED WITH OTHERS THAT I HAVE DONE, SO I THINK OF VARIED COLOR COMBINATIONS.
- What advice do you have for young people wanting to be illustrators?
FIRST, HAVE FUN! DRAW WHAT YOU FIND INTERESTING OR ENJOY LOOKING AT. DRAW LOTS FROM YOUR IMAGINATION, AND ALSO DRAW WHAT YOU SEE (OBSERVATIONAL) TRY DRAWING FACES AND HANDS. EVEN THOUGH IT’S HARD, IT’LL BE A GREAT SKILL TO HAVE.
- What are you working on now?
I AM CURRENTLY DOING ILLUSTRATIONS FOR A BOOK CALLED POLAR BEAR PIRATES, BY RHONDA GOWLER GREENE. THIS SHOULD PROViDE A NEW PALETTE TO WORK IN!
What holidays does your family celebrate in winter? What types of things do you do to prepare for it? What other holidays are celebrated during this time?
- Why did Dewey get in trouble?
- Describe where Stephen lives.
- What holidays are celebrated in the story?
- Why do they create a hole in the ice?
- What do you think will happen after the end of the book?
- Why is Stephen finding this Christmas more difficult than one’s before? Have you ever been disappointed with a holiday? What did you do?
- Describe Stephen’s new family. Why is it awkward?
- What scares him at first about the old woman? Do you think he is right to be scared? Would you have gone with her?
- What does the witch have him do? Why? Have you ever been asked to do something without understanding why at first?
- What do they do for the animals outside? What can you do for animals in the winter?
- Why isn’t the old lady afraid that Dewey will hurt her cats? How does he learn “soon enough?”
- What does he tell the old woman? Why do you think he’s able to confide in her? What do they share together?
- What is the hole in the ice used for? Why does it make Stephen feel so much better? Why is it the best Christmas gift?
- What does the boy learn? What does the old lady mean when she says, “it’s all one light.” How can you be a light?
- Which illustration is your favorite? Why?
Retell one part of the story through Dewey’s point of view. What does he see? Hear? Notice? What does he think of the cats? What does he learn?
Design a card which celebrates all the winter holidays. Use the theme of “It’s all one light’ to guide your work. You may use any media that you prefer but explain your work in a brief journal.
Can you create or find music that you think matches the feelings in each picture? Would it be fast or slow? Loud or soft? What types of instruments would you use to create the sounds? Would the rhythms be strong or soft?
Research the history of the winter holiday that your family celebrates. How did it begin? What does it celebrate? What foods are traditionally served? What types of decorations are put up? Create a poster about what you learned.
Research what types of animals remain active during the winter months in your area. Find out, too, what type of food they eat and how you can help them survive. Create a food chain that shows at least three animals and their diets.
If Stephen has $30.00 and wants to buy everyone in his family a gift for Christmas or Hanukkah then how much can he spend per person?
What if the old lady asks him to chop wood for $6.00 dollars an hour and it takes him four hours to finish the work. How much does he have now? How much could he spend on each family member now?
Can you write your own word problem based on the book?