The Hidden Witch

illus. by Molly Knox Ostertag. 208p. Scholastic/Graphix. Oct. 2018. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781338253764; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781338253757. POP
Gr 4-6–In this adventurous sequel to The Witch Boy, Aster is finally allowed to learn witchery alongside the girls in his family, while his best friend Charlie is excited by the prospect of a new friendship at (nonmagic) school with shy, guarded Ariel. But mysterious happenings pick up quickly when Charlie is visited by a malevolent spirit and when magic meddles in her first basketball game. Meanwhile, in return for extra lessons, Aster helps his grandmother heal the monster who endangered his life and who, deep down, is also his great-uncle Mikasi. Ostertag skillfully develops the setting and action while tackling topics such as friendship, jealousy, bullying, and identity. Themes of embracing differences and the long-term effects of intolerance carry over from the previous installment, as readers are introduced to a diverse, expanding cast. The bold art is inviting; clear-cut, brightly colored panels with warm autumnal tones keep scenes moving and shift into muted shades to enhance the creep factor. Depictions of Mikasi's dragon-esque form and foreboding shadow shapes are the perfect level of spooky for the target audience.
VERDICT An exciting continuation of Aster's supernatural journey, whose coming-of-age messages will resonate with middle graders.

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