Joanne O’Connell, author of Beauty and the Bin, has picked out her top five recommended children's books about potions.
Joanne says "I’ve always been fascinated by potions and lotions. And children’s books are full of them, from the bottle of ‘Drink Me’ in Alice in Wonderland to the swirling chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So, when I was writing my debut novel, Beauty and the Bin, I had lots of fun with Laurie – the main character – as she and her sister concoct everything from fruity face packs to minty lip balms and bubbly chocolate bath crumble. Here are my favourite children’s books which involve fabulous potions … "
George's Marvellous Medicine
Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake
George's Marvellous Medicine, by Roald Dahl, is arguably the defining book of what we could call the ‘potions’ genre. I’ve read this so many times and it still makes me LOL. Every single time! George whips up an absolute stormer of a potion – anti-freeze, toothpaste, nail varnish, mustard powder, lipstick, horseradish sauce, it all goes in – which he then pretends is his bad-tempered Grandma’s medicine. Grandma drinks it and grows taller than the house, which has some hilarious consequences when George’s parents arrive home. I can see why there’s often a ‘don’t try this at home’ warning for this book, but I love the sheer joy and abandon in the way George just goes around the house and garden, chucking in anything he likes.
The Worst Witch
This series follows the adventures of Mildred Hubble (‘the worst witch’), her friends Maud Spellbody and Enid Nightshade, and her enemy Ethel Hallow. It's set at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches, a girls-only boarding school for witches on top of a mountain and of course, in a school for witches there are plenty of potions. The ones that the girls make by mistake (or outside of lessons, without the teachers' knowledge) are obviously the most interesting. There’s an invisibility potion when they should be making laughing potions and a potion made by arch-rival Ethel, which makes Mildred’s hair grow so long it fills the school.
Traditional (the version pictured is by Jess Stockham)
This is an old folk tale, which I think originates from Eastern Europe but like most folk tales, there are slightly different versions, which makes it all the more interesting. The basic plot is about a traveller/a group of travellers (some versions tell the tale with a solider, another with a monk, and others with animals rather than humans as the characters) who arrive/s in a village with an empty cooking pot. No one is willing to give or share food. So, they drop a stone into their pot and begin to boil it with water. Each villager asks what’s being cooked and is told ‘stone soup’ and that everyone can taste it. Each villager then brings a vegetable or herb to make it taste better so by the end, the stone is removed, and there really is food for everyone. It may not strictly speaking be a potion but it’s a tasty concoction and a clever way to show how the villagers had to be tricked into doing the right thing.
Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?
This is a book I read as an adult (after it being highly recommended to me by my own children) and I absolutely loved it. When Jessica begins to turn invisible, she and her friends set off on an adventure to find out why. It turns out that a rose quartz necklace Jessica was given as a birthday gift was reacting to a serum/potion she didn't know she had accidently come into contact with at birth, and it's causing invisibility. And Jessica's not alone – there are others out there who also came into contact with the same experimental serum at birth. Finding them, and finding out what happened, leads her to eventually saving herself and her friends from danger. Fast paced, clever and fun.
The Courage of Cat Campbell
This book follows on from the Poppy Pendle books – and again it’s a read I’ve enjoyed as an adult. Cat was born in her mother’s bakery and has inherited the gift of magic. She learns to use this once she’s older but even when she’s young, we hear about how she likes to ‘raid the spice shelf, shaking cinnamon, ginger, and chilli powder into her bowl'. She’d open all her mother’s canisters, spooning in cornmeal and brown sugar. Anything Cat could wrap her tiny hands around she’d use.’ Eventually, Cat can harness her powers for good as she helps out her family and neighbours.
Beauty and the Bin
Joanne's own new book, Beauty and the Bin, is a fresh and funny debut about friends, family, school and being a young eco-warrior. The potions in this story are Laurie's home-made beauty recipes, made from ingredients that her eco-warrior family get from the bin. When a competition comes to Silverdale High looking for the next best 'Business with a difference', and the most popular girl in school wants to team up to sell Laurie's lotions and potions, she can hardly believe her luck. But can she find success and popularity without losing sight of her true self?
Find out more about Beauty and the Bin on our blog.