Witch in Training by Michelle Robinson – an agent’s perspective

Dark cottage core anyone? We dressed as the witch mum & daughter in Witch in Training. (Yes that is a child’s witches’ hat I’m wearing, It has definitely seen better days.)

Photo of me – Lucy – post from James, confusingly. Anyway, here’s James with an agent’s perspective on this book, & when a poem is not a picturebook text…

Happy belated book birthday to Michelle Robinson’s gorgeous Witch in Training, which Lucy has adopted as her #DarkCottageCore bible for Halloween. 

Walker’s choice of Briony May Smith for this & Tooth Fairy In Training was inspired. The depth & beauty of the worlds she conjures is phenomenal. Even the green faces & purple hair blend perfectly with the palette. (We didn’t even try to replicate that!) 

And now something technical on picturebook writing – indulge me… 

The success of a certain beloved picturebook – no need to name it here, but it rhymes with a buffalo – has persuaded generations of authors-in-training to write their texts in verse. For over 20 years now, UK agencies & publishers have been flooded with poems hoping to become picturebooks. 

But poems & picturebook texts are not the same. The former are self-contained – they conjure imagery that takes shape in the mind, but need not on the page. The latter are written to be illustrated – the very stuff of them is captions for images, whether prose or in verse,

And that’s what makes Michelle’s verse-writing so exquisite. Reading it out, you might not even notice many of the rhymes, or the easy trip of the rhythm. The technique is subsumed beneath the surface. The surface is all quicksilver wit, the characters’ voices slipping in and out of a narrative that rolls effortlessly on through vignettes & page-turns, every line a caption to conjure wonder from Briony’s imagination. 

In fact she makes it seem so easy that it’s tempting to underestimate what a tricky thing this is to pull off. But tricky it is – as many agents, editors & authors-in-training will attest! 

And if you’re trying to write picturebook verse yourself, & you already know Julia D’s oeuvre off by heart, then you could do a lot worse than looking up the collected scribblings of Michelle R.

– James Catchpole

[Image descriptions:

  • 1. Lucy and Mainie are in the garden dressed as the witch mother and child in Witch in Training and are holding a copy of the book. They were aiming for #DarkCottageCore, but Lucy is wearing a child’s witches hat which has definitely seen better days. 
  • 2. A page from the book. The mum witch especially is a total dark cottage core dream, in a floral blouse with a piecrust collar. They have green skin and purple hair, a surprisingly becoming combination. The child – Betty – wears a very fabulous red cape. 
  • 3 & 4 Consecutive pages from the book, showing a series of vignettes of the child witch getting ready, and then mother and daughter flying on their broomsticks. 
  • 5. The front cover of the book – a dark blue night sky with the child witch flying through it on a broomstick. There is foil. 
  • 6. Mainie – still dressed as a witch – is collecting god knows what from the pond. Her Fable Heart red velvet cape looks pretty incredible. 

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