Halloween in May: A Witch Hazel Interview with Molly Idle
Look, I know that I do a lot of interviews on this site. I know that. And I know that not every single one of the books I do is necessarily going to blow your socks off. I have standards, but that doesn’t mean that I’m always looking for award winners when I talk to people.
Yeah. So. Today’s interview? Um… this book we’re talking about is kind of a potential award winner.
I know! I know! I’m sorry! I say that a lot sometimes. But see, I’ve got something special for you today. It’s none other than Molly Idle’s latest book and it’s . . . remarkable. I’m talking sepia-toned amazingness. You want some books to put on your 2023 Caldecott contender lists? Okay. Fine. This is one of them. The name of the book, for the matter, is Witch Hazel and it’s this marvelous combination of Halloween-centric themes, memory, friendship as family, and acceptance alongside the passage of a life. But a publisher encapsulation would probably be a better thing to read so . . .
Something magical happens when Hazel and Hilda are together. As the seasons pass, Hazel’s broom whisks the dust off many years of joyful memories, and young Hilda watches them come to life. But is it magic making memories…or are memories making magic?
This poignant tale and artistic tour de force from Caldecott Honoree Molly Idle gently explores the passage of time and the transcendent power of sharing our stories.
Anyway, once I read the book I sort of had to talk to Molly about it. When you see it for yourself (on shelves everywhere October 11th) you’ll understand why. This book? It’s special.
Molly Idle: Betsy!
Thank you so much for having Hazel and I over for a cover chat!
Betsy Bird: Molly! Such a delight to speak with you today. WITCH HAZEL, I should tell you right now, is one of my favorites of the year. I think you’ve managed something I haven’t seen in a very long time: A heartfelt story that will pair beautifully with the Halloween season. What are the origins of this book?
MI: A few years ago I scribbled a sketch of a wizened little witch, conjuring a kitten from the dust swept up with her broom.
And something about them felt so familiar- like when you’ve just met someone, but it seems as if you’ve known them your entire life.
So, I kept on scribbling, and scribbling, and scribbling…
And what appeared was a tale about the intertwining of time, and memory— and magic.
BB: Did the book evolve in any particular way as you worked on it or did you know from the get go how this one should go?
MI: I wish I could say that the entire story appeared in a single “POOF!” of picture book prestidigitation.
But in truth, the process was much more like carefully dusting off an old painting— revealing bit by bit, until, at last, I could see the whole picture.
BB: Let’s talk about this marvelous limited color palette you have going on here. When I think of “Molly Idle” the first thing that comes to mind is the brilliant pink of Flora and the Flamingo. What’s so remarkable about your books, though, is that you’re often playing as deftly with colors and shades as you are with the pictures themselves. Here it feels like you’ve challenged yourself with sepia, black, and a meticulous use of white. Why go this route?
MI: Aw, thank you Betsy! That’s incredibly kind of you to say.
As soon as it became clear what the magical elements in the story were made of- the story itself chose the limited palette!
And while working with only graphite and white on toned paper definitely presented some new challenges for me, it also provided a tremendous opportunity to create something unlike anything I’ve ever made before.
BB: Forgive me, I should really know this, but what’s your artistic process? Surely computers must play a hand in here somewhere. And how do you draw white memories on a brown background?
MI: All of my art is made entirely traditionally- without computers.
And I usually begin by using a light table to transfer my sketches to drawing paper.
But the brown paper for Witch Hazel is completely opaque- no light could get through!
So, to begin each piece I turned to a truly old school technique— tracing paper transfers.
For each illustration, I made a backwards copy of the sketch, then traced over that backwards sketch, with a pencil on tracing paper.
Then, I’d flip the tracing paper over, pencil side down, onto the brown paper, and re-trace all the lines again on the back of the paper.
That transferred a soft imprint of the graphite outlines from the tracing paper onto the brown paper, with the image facing the right way around—just like magic!
And as for making the white dust memories. They really are made of dust… white pencil dust!
BB: Okay, that is actually the kookiest thing I’ve ever heard. The sheer amount of work that must have taken . . . yet you can’t help but admit that it comes with fantastic results. But getting back to the contents, do you even consider this a Halloween tale or is it more an All Year Witch Tale story to you?
MI: I can totally understand how Witch Hazel could be seen as a tale told for Halloween. It contains all the proper potion ingredients:
“Double, double toil and trouble” Check.
But Hazel’s real magical power doesn’t come from a broom, a cat, or even her quintessential pointy hat—but from her ability to conjure up memories and share her stories.
That’s a magic we all possess.
And that, to me, makes Hazel a witch for all seasons.
BB: Finally, what are you working on next?
MI: I can answer that with one last magic word Betsy… Unicorns!
Gobs and gobs of thanks to Molly Idle for answering my questions today and to Victoria Stapleton and Little, Brown & Co. for setting the whole dang thing up anyway. Now the book really and truly isn’t out until October 11th but you can get more info on it here and pre-order it today. Honestly. It’s worth it.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network