Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Spelling Bee! Bella Donna--Too Many Spells by Ruth Symes

Miss Rowan gave me an even bigger smile.

"Is something wrong, Bella Donna?" Miss Rowan asked.

"I don't really understand algebra," I said in a very small voice.

"Lots of people don't," Miss Rowan smiled, "but it's easy once you get the hang of it. Here--I'll show you." And she did! She talked me through an equation, and all of a sudden it made sense!

"I can see you're a very talented clever girl and I'd like to help you as much as I can, Miss Rowan said."

All the students in Bella Donna's class, including her best girlfriend Angela, love their pretty new substitute teacher--everyone except Bella's friend Sam, who seems to see her in a different light.

"There's something weird about her," Sam said. "She looks really mean."

But Bella Donna shrugs off Sam's strange take on sweet Miss Rowan. Although she's only been a witchling since she left the orphanage and moved in with her adopted witch mom Lilith, she has a real talent for casting spells, and when she passes the entrance exam for the Best Witchling Spell-Caster contest, Bella knows she has a lot to learn to make up for her late start. Her cousin Verity, who is grounded from spell-casting herself, offers to help, and Bella is a very busy witchling for the month before the big contest.

The time passes fast, with a class field trip to Sam's parents' Woodland Wildlife Center and Bella's first sleepover with Angela at her house. Since Angela is not a witch, Bella has to get permission from head witch Zorelda, who casts a special visitation spell over the witch houses on Coven Road, making them look like regular suburban cul de sac homes for the occasion.

But when the day of the Best Witchling contest, rolls around, Bella's spell works perfectly--her hair grows very long and flashes with every color in the rainbow. But even that spell can't compete with Morgana's flying dragon. Bella Dona is crushed when she finishes in third place.

Then the sting of not winning is instantly forgotten when, on the walk home from school the next day, Miss Rowan's car pulls up beside her, and she offers Bella a ride home. Bella knows that non-witches can't see Coven Road without one of Zorelda's temporary spells. What should she do?

"No, it's okay. I don't have far to go," I said.

Miss Rowan suddenly didn't seem like the sweet teacher I'd gotten used to. She got out of her car. Her face started to look different. He nose grew and her teeth became pointed, and she looked like an evil witch.

"Take me to Coven Road right now!" she demanded.

Bella Dona knows that now her witchling spell casting has met its biggest test yet, in Ruth Symes' second book in Coven Road series, Bella Donna: Too Many Spells (Sky Pony Press, 2016 (American ed.) In brand-new paperback editions, illustrated by Marion Lindsay's witchly winning black-and-white drawings throughout, this lighthearted new series, focused on doing good magic and written for beginning chapter readers, fits well into a niche once crowded by witching stories for readers between second and fifth grade.

Bella is a special character, one who knows she is different from her classmates and is working hard at her transition from orphanage life to a loving parent's home, not to mention managing to live in two different worlds, the magic of Coven Road and her life in the everyday world. A lot of children today are faced with bridging the gap between their family's life and the rest of the world, and Bella's dilemma will resonate with these readers. Symes' first book in this series is Bella Donna: Coven Road, and readers who work their way through this proposed series will likely enjoy the equally engaging Dying to Meet You (43 Old Cemetery Road).

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