Cover Image: The Witch of Woodland

The Witch of Woodland

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Member Reviews

This is my first time reading a Laurel Snyder book She is a new to me author & an excellent writer. I really enjoyed this book, its not
 my typical story to read.
 This had a theme that every child (& adult) needs to learn, be happy & proud of who you are. this was a story full of magic & adventure
 I highly recommend this story to all middle school kids.I even tell adults to enjoy it as well. You will enjoy this adventure.
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The thought I had through much of this book and when I finished it was that it could have been better. It just didn't seem to know what kind of story it wanted to be. Is this a story of witch craft gone wrong? A coming of age story about a young girl who doesn't seem to know where she fits in? A story about changing friendships? It's fine to have a story with elements of all of these, but the problem here is that none of them become fully developed.  The best/most interesting parts were those involving Zippy's bat mitzvah and her discussions about her faith. But just as those moments really get started they're interrupted by the parts with "Miriam". I thought that Zippy was a little too flippant about being a witch. Especially since most of her "magic" seemed more like lucky coincidences. Bea was right in telling Zippy that she needed to try more things and make more efforts to be social, and although I didn't agree with her just ditching Zippy with no explanation, I understood her need to broaden her horizons. I had hoped maybe part of Zippy's character development would have involved her finding more people she could be herself with. I doubt she will stay in touch with the other kids from her bat mitzvah classes and Bea is starting to branch out. I fear Zippy will end up a very lonely high schooler. Even the parts with Miriam taking Zippy's memories weren't what they could have been but I think that is largely due to the fact that there just wasn't time to fully develop it. This book either needed more of a central focus or to be longer.
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This book will stay with me for a long time. The writing is excellent, and the author is very confident, experienced, and bold. This is my first contact with her work and it made me a fan of whatever she will create and is already published. 
It's one of the most complete and educational books with insight into Jewish culture and folklore, also Judaism showing us with subtlety great lessons of tolerance and an amazing mindset: the constant search for knowledge and answers. It doesn't force us to believe and offers us choices. The author also brings witchcraft into the mix in a very credible and complex way. 
The main character has her doubts and perhaps even has depression but she is so strong and angry sometimes that makes her a credible character as well that many will relate to. I love her relationship with her parents that are also feeling with her 13 years-old. 
Her growth in the novel and her journey become fantastic and I couldn't put it down. This is a very well-written novel constructed with care and creativity. No matter was addressed with superficiality. 

The end is very strong and full of truth, I loved it. 

Themes of: belonging to a community, where to belong? growth of social ring, identity, isolation, family, religious identity, puberty, parenting, friendship, anger, depression, seventh-grade expectations, witchcraft, magic, being an author, bar mitzvah initiation, physical identity... A book that allows us so much and gives us space for more. Congratulations.

Thank you NetGalley and publisher for the opportunity to give my honest opinion.
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This is not your typical wordy, complex MG story with a precocious and mature main character. The beauty of this book is that it’s perfect for kids who want that connection to a realistic 12-year-old who isn’t in a hurry to grow up just because everyone else around her is. Yes, Zippy has a lot going on and she’s trying to come to grips with what things she’s always taken for granted now mean to her.
With her bat mitzvah soon approaching, Zippy contemplates the importance of religion in her life. It’s refreshing to read how she questions everything and a peek into her family’s more modern adaptation of Judaism. What really made this stand out, though, was bringing magic into the mix (she IS a witch, after all!) and the use of that to help her make meaning out of her religion.
Another unique aspect I enjoyed was the story’s structure. It is actually Zippy writing a book, chapter by chapter, trying to incorporate important literary arts elements taught at school. Zippy addresses the young reader directly with words like “I don’t know how they do it at your school, but at mine….” Her honest and simple voice will speak to even the most reluctant readers.
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I'm sorely conflicted about this book for three reasons: 1) my metropolitan has a robust community of young Jewish readers who would probably take great pleasure in this story; 2) I've never encountered a children's story focused on Jewish folklore, but the voice here doesn't stand out enough to get a foothold on the Best Books list for which it is a contender; and 3) on a personal note - as a former religious studies major - I thought this book was bomb. Qualitatively, it doesn't shine. I'll have to enjoy it on my own time and maybe push for it to be added to our collections.
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This review is based on an ARC of The Witch of Woodland which I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (HarperCollins Children's/Walden Pond Press).

4.5 stars

I'm just going to go ahead and check out every Laurel Snyder book I can get my hands on, thanks! The Witch of Woodland is a wonderful, magical, lyrical, relatable, and unforgettable middle grade coming-of-age. Told as a book penned by our main character Zippy recounting a life-changing and mysterious encounter with an--angel? dybbuk? ibbur?--this novel is a genre-bender that incorporates the everyday struggles of a middle school girl, an otherworldly, magical mystery, and on top of that, struggles concerning faith and identity in light of her impending bat mitzvah.

Zippy is a terrific and honest, engaging narrator. Her voice carries throughout the story, and I cherished the short time I had reading her story and rooting for her, watching her grow into herself as she embraced her magic to save a folkloric Jewish being!

The Witch of Woodland is touching, funny, and memorable. It will help a lot of young readers with their own introspection, and it entertains endlessly.
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Laurel Snyder’s new middle grades novel is magical! Somehow, she’s made fantasy nearly realistic. Zippy’s story seems real because the setting, description, and dialogue are all true-to-life. I’ve spent just a little time in:near Atlanta, and Snyder’s description of the heat was spot on. When she describes flying over the city at night, you can truly see scene. 

As a middle school teacher, my favorite books are the ones depicting parents as they truly are - imperfect. When we see parental decisions through the eyes of a child, and the author is on the child’s “side,” it changes everything. Snyder does this so well through the decisions Zippy’s parents make about her religious upbringing. We get to see that, just maybe, kids are right when they question their parents’ decision making! I love that, 

What I will remember about and love about this book forever is that it parallels the journey my best friend and I took - though ours happened later - as our friendship stretched and changed. I think so many readers will relate, and I hope this book will help save some important friendships by showing readers that we can grow without growing apart. 

Finally, I really appreciated the education I received about the Jewish faith through this book. I knew very little, and I think Snyder’s motivation to write this book is admirable. I’m thankful she shared “her” story.
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This book was amazing and I’m so glad I had the chance to read it! 

Zippy’s experience with Judaism was incredibly relatable for me and I image would be for a lot of Ashkenazi Jews who grew up in minimally religious households. I had a bit more involvement growing up than Zippy did, but a lot of the “othering” she feels from being Jewish and for being a witch felt very familiar. 

I liked that this book discussed Judaism in a way that was relatable for someone who is Jewish but was also well explained for a reader who might not know anything about Judaism. 

The amount of middle grade and YA books I’ve read this year that have Jewish main characters makes me so happy, especially knowing there’s more representation out here for kids that wasn’t there when I was a kid. 

Thank you to NetGalley for making this available in exchange for an honest review!
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This was not what I expected but a fun read none-the-less. It’s energetically written, and engaging with an upbeat  narrating style for young readers. It cleverly explains some of the fundamentals of a Judaism, while working in Zippy’s magical witchy ways — inventive and original.
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I like this one. The themes of social isolation are relatable. It is a great middle-grade book. I think it will help kids struggling with faith and finding their way.
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I first heard about this book when the author, Laurel Snyder, tweeted the book cover recently. I've followed her for a while and read several of her books. What a happy coincidence to find this on NetGalley, and then receive it as an ARC. 


Zipporah Chava McConnell (Zippy) loves magic. More than that, she thinks of herself as a witch; it's how she became best friends with Bea. But now they're twelve and suddenly things don't seem like they make as much sense between her and Bea now. Zippy also has to start planning for her bat mitzvah; which frustrates her because she only attends synagogue on holidays, and doesn't even know if she wants to be a "real" Jew. When she and Bea start falling out, Zippy leans harder into her magic. She isn't exactly sure how, but somehow she conjures a girl with wings out of nowhere, a girl who doesn't have any memories. Zippy feels certain that she can use her magic to help the girl remember who she is. This book is her thoughts as she records them, what she calls "The Truth".


Try as I might, I don't see too much in this story that, on its own, points to God's good intent. Zippy struggles to fit in, doesn't have any real friends, and her parents don't spend much meaningful time with her. I'll dig into some of this more in the next sections.


Like I said above, a lot of the pieces of Zippy's life are in contrast to God's good intent for creation. She is Jewish, but only on high holidays. She lives with her parents, but they are so focused on other things she spends a lot of time alone. There is a certain kind of bittersweet pessimistic tone Snyder uses at the beginning of the book to introduce us to Zippy and set up the central conflict. Zippy is the narrator and she gives you great access to her thoughts; she is more honest with the readers than with anyone else, and her honesty makes you feel the sadness and worry she holds. 
Zippy is a witch. But not in a Harry Potter pretend wand sort of way. She would tell you (and based on some of the things she describes) she is an actual witch. Everything she does as part of her magic has deep roots in the occult. She uses and researches spells and hexes, has a scrying bowl, and consults Tarot cards. Even if magic isn't "real", the things she does, from a believer's perspective, are dangerous. There are numerous warnings against practicing witchcraft in both the Old and New Testaments. Paul tells us that it is an obvious sign of someone practicing sin (Galatians 5:19). Believers in the early church who practiced witchcraft and then followed  Jesus would burn their scrolls as a clear sign of their repentance (Acts 19:17-20). Let me be clear on two points:
I am condemning witchcraft in strong terms, but not condemning people. There is the possibility of repentance from any sin, witchcraft included.
I am not condemning this book. This is one element of many that points to the fall, and I will not throw out this whole book because of this one issue. But I would be remiss if I did not speak to the dangers of witchcraft.

Redemption & Restoration

While this book may not have had many ways to point to God's good intent in creation, it had much to say and show about redemption and restoration. In fact, Zippy's whole arc could be its own post on these themes, but I'll keep my focus on these points:
One of the very first things to happen in the narrative is Zippy and her best friend, Bea, growing apart. I spent a lot of my time reading this book just feeling sad about this; I thought of my own experience as a middle school girl growing apart from my friends. It didn't seem like Zippy and Bea would mend their relationship, but they did. It was organic and felt true the way fiction sometimes does. Zippy described Bea as "her person", her best friend; even though they spend a lot of the book apart, Bea is her truest friend. The way they return to each other at the end is so encouraging. 
One with many friends may be harmed, but there is a friend who stays closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24
Even though Zippy's family is not devoutly Jewish, she does prepare to celebrate her bat mitzvah. At first, this causes her to feel uncomfortable and angry; she knows this is not something to take lightly and she doesn't want to offend anyone whose beliefs are stronger than hers. But her rabbi, Rabbi Dan, encourages her to work through her questions as part of her preparations. He doesn't say it in these words, but if we know where and how to look, God's presence can be seen anywhere (Psalm 19:1). Rabbi Dan shows her a different way of being Jewish and having beliefs that she had never considered before. In the end, she says at her bat mitzvah she still doesn't believe in God exactly, but she does have the desire to learn more. Her growth in her Jewish beliefs, even if small, is a good model of how to grow in faith.
I really struggled with where to place Miriam. She was the character I mentioned in the summary, the girl with wings that Zippy mysteriously conjures into being who has no memories of who she is. Her relationship with Zippy is mysterious, and one of the things Snyder doesn't exactly explain (which, no spoiler, is kind of the point). I can say without giving too much away, she is connected to Zippy in a way that makes Zippy feel safe and curious, as well as bothered and uncomfortable. I can also say that a lot of the redemption Zippy experiences surrounding her Jewish heritage and beliefs centers on Miriam. What ultimately led me to include Miriam in this section is how her part of the story resolves itself. Again, without spoilers, Miriam leaves Zippy feeling almost more confused than ever,  but it leads Zippy to the understanding that some stories don't have nice neat endings, and that the unknown is sometimes the point. This conversation is certainly on Zippy's mind when she gives her speech at her bat mitzvah (again, I won't spoil it, you'll have to read it for yourself). And that's how God works. In Jeremiah's prophecy, God promises that He can be found if we search with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13), and Jesus echoes this in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:7).

Family Ideas

I am not Jewish, but as a Christian, it was not hard to see similarities between the two religions. If you're a Christian, think about visiting a local synagogue for Shabbat services one week. Discuss with your family, or reflect on your own about what is similar about the two types of services, what you enjoyed, or what stood out to you. 
Zippy and her family have their own unique ways of practicing their Jewish beliefs (dumpling sabbath, how they celebrate the high holidays apart from the services). Think of your own traditions and ways you live out your beliefs that are unique to your family.
One of the central conflicts of the book is the isolation Zippy feels, even from her parents. Incorporate time into your life to connect with people. Family members, good friends, a pastor, or a counselor could all be a person capable of encouraging you and connecting with you. If you need help, you're not alone.

Closing Remarks on The Witch of Woodland

At this point in my reviews, I usually offer a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the book being reviewed. In this case, since witchcraft features so strongly in the plot, that doesn't feel quite right; there's something odd about praising God for witchcraft. Instead, I'm going to offer a prayer of repentance.
Dear God, forgive us for the ways we try to push You out of our lives, thinking we know better. It can be so easy in our society to find ways to not make time for you. Or, like Zippy, we can delay making a decision about what we believe. Help us to seek you, and to turn to Your word to make sense of things. Reveal Yourself to us, and continue to draw us to You. Amen.
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I really enjyoed reading this, it was what I was expecting from the description. I really enjoyed getting to know the characters and the world they were in. The plot was so well done and kept me invested in what was going on. Laurel Snyder has a great writing style and I'm so glad I was able to read this.

"Ahh!” called the girl as she grabbed at my fingers, clutched them, and the pulse grew stronger. Her eyes brightened, and two spots of pink appeared in her cheeks before she pulled her hands away, and I realized she wasn’t transparent anymore. I could no longer see the trees beyond her. She was solid now."
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