My Unwilling Witch Sleeps Over, by Hiawyn Oram, illustrated by Sarah Warburton (Little Brown--Hachette, hardcover edition published 2009, young middle grade, 112 pp)
Rumblewick's job is enough to set his whiskers on edge. Other cats have witches who are witches--Rumblewick is the familiar to a young girl witch who isn't witchly in the least. A witch who can't stand to harm essential ingredients (slugs, toads, etc). Worse than that, a witch who is fascinated by the "other side," where girls do gymnastics, have sleepovers, and do a lot of giggling.
But Haggie Aggie (HA) doesn't let the strict code of witch behavior stand in her way, and she's off to the other side to hang out with her human friends, leaving Rumblewick working frantically to keep the other witches from learning the shocking depths of HA's unwitchly-ness...
Told in the form of Rumblewick's diary, with lots of black and white illustrations and a few magical spells, this is a fun and fast book for the young middle grade reader. Rumblewick's smart and funny point of view keeps the story going briskly, and (in as much as he has no interest in the girl doings of the other side) keeps the books from being just one big girl fest. Although it's aimed at girls, my nine-year old boy read it with enjoyment, and my six-year old boy listened to me read it with interest (helped, I think, by the non-pinkness of the cover--it doesn't scream Girl Book. Even though it really is).
I'm making a point of this because good, entertaining, copiously illustrated, easy books for a kid who is unwilling to plunge into "real" chapter books are so darn useful. These are the books I label Not Quite Middle Grade, if anyone is looking for other examples.
This is the second book about HA and Rumblewick, the first being My Unwilling Witch Goes to Ballet School. (Which also has a rather non-girly cover. Although the spine color teeters on the edge...), and there are several more in the series. They were first published in paperback a few years ago, and are now being reissued in hardcover, which I think adds to their not-quite-middle-grade reader appeal, and possibly to the parent-wanting-child-to-read-real-book appeal too. Hardcover books make nicer presents.
(review copy received from publisher)