Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge
Deborah Marcero, Illustrator
Harper Collins, 2015 169 pgs
Backyard Witch series #1
Veteran authors for young people, Heppermann and Koertge team up to pen a new series for children transitioning to chapter books. Sadie's two best friends, Maya and Jess, are going on vacation without her, leaving Sadie feeling rejected and lonely. To waste some time she ventures out to her backyard where she encounters a witch living in her playhouse. The witch is Ms. M and she and Sadie become instant friends. Ms. M. is also sad. Her best friend Ethel turned herself into a warbler and her cat has disappeared. Ms. M and Sadie set off to find Ethel, armed with binoculars and a field guide to birds. Ethel is never found, but the new friends do find the missing cat, save the playhouse from being sold at a lawn sale, and discover many birds living in the neighborhood along the way. Time passes quickly and happily. At long last Sadie's friends return and three are joyfully reunited. Sadly, Ms. M. leaves for Mexico, where she has dreamed that Ethel has traveled, but leaves Sadie with hints of future adventures.
The Backyard Witch series is a departure for authors Heppermann and Koertge. Both write books for teenagers and Hepeprmann also pens nonfiction. Sadie's Story is a solid series opener. We get to know Sadie and her family and friends without too much background weighing the book down. Children will relate to the feeling of being left out and navigating the complexities of friendships. Sadie's two friends go on vacation together, the one friend only allowed to bring one guest and not choosing Sadie. When the friends return they immediately go to Sadie's house and the reader has the impression that all will be fine with this group of girls. Ms. M. swoops in just when she's needed and leaves when her work here is done, much like Mary Poppins. Unlike Mary Poppins she borrows Sadie's clothes and plays right along side her. Adults can't see Ms. M and she performs no "real" magic, making the reading suspect that perhaps she is an imaginary friend. No mind, Ms. M gets Sadie off the couch, away from video games and outside bird watching, no longer feeling sorry for herself. Tips for bird watching and a list of books for further reading is included at the end of the book Sadie's story is a bit longer than the usual transitional chapter book, but the controlled vocabulary, large print, wide margins, and generous illustrations make it level appropriate and not overwhelming. I am assuming that Ms. M will next visit Sadie's two friends in the remaining volumes of the series, but we will have to wait and see.