Picklewitch & Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret by Claire Barker

Picklewitch & Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: original, witty, playful, magic & fun.
Children’s book title: Picklewitch & Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret.
Children’s author: Claire Barker.
Children’s illustrator: Teemu Juhani.
Genre: illustrated middle grade .
Published by: Faber Children’s.
ISBN: 9780571335220
Recommended for children aged: independent readers aged 9 -11.
First published: Paperback March 2021.
This children’s book is ideal for: reading aloud with KS2 classes.

Picklewitch & Jack and the Sea Wizard's Secret by Claire Barker

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Our review:

This was my first encounter with Jack and his friend Picklewitch but if you have read the earlier books you will know what to expect from this unlikely partnership – magic, great fun, an original storyline and witty and playful use of language.

Jack is a rather serious-minded pupil at St. Immaculate’s School for the Gifted. It is high summer and the honeybees are buzzing, roses are blooming and lawnmowers are “puttering up and down the perfectly striped lawns.” Suddenly the peace is shattered by the arrival of a hot and bothered Picklewitch – “FRAZZLIN’ FUDGENUTS…..I’m as hot as a boiled beetroot. ”

Jack gently suggests that Picklewitch should change into something more appropriate for the summer heat but she decides that she will cast a spell and change the season instead. This exchange gives us an early insight into the relationship between these two characters. “Brainbox” Jack has won the title of Most Sensible Boy in School for three years running and Picklewitch has a ”nose for naughtiness, a mind for mischief and a weakness for cake”. If you are imaginative, curious and slightly zany then this is a match made in heaven.

The story storms along at a great pace and we are soon accompanying Jack and his class on a school trip to Dorset to hunt for fossils. There’s a prize for the best fossil find and Jack is determined to win it. At first, Picklewitch is reluctant to join the trip but is persuaded by the promise of ice creams at the seaside, (or if you prefer Picklewitch’s version “I – screams at the seaside”) and the magic and mayhem that follow her turn what should be a straightforward expedition into an exciting adventure in which good triumphs over bad, Jack becomes an unsung hero and Picklewitch’s magic secrets are protected for the next story.

Scowling Margaret, the Sea Wizard whose secret lair Jack and Picklewitch discover, is a wonderfully bizarre character. Claire Barker creates an under the sea world that is mysterious and enchantingly unwelcoming: “Long, narrow and deep, the corridor was lit with a single stubby candle. It was dark and drippy and smelled of unmentionable things” and Scowling Margaret herself is a rude old lady with a secret heart of gold: “Scowling Margaret’s expression softened for just a second, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, before quickly disappearing again.” Along with Jack, we are happy to believe that she has lived in her world under the sea for hundreds of years and that her home and her solitude are precious. We need to accept her and leave her alone and you can read what you like into that!

Picklewitch lives a life of happy chaos in a tree in Jack’s garden. In the epilogue she returns in glory to tell her bird friends all about her holiday:

“The seaside….is full of strangeness, the likes of which you has never seen. There be peculiar salty winds and mists for a start. There’s starfish and cushion stars and butterfish, I – screams, razor clams and singing winkles. The salty wind is most refreshing.”

Reading this during the latest lockdown Claire Barker’s description made me suddenly remember what a magical place the seaside is, and how much I miss it.

The extras at the end of the book provide some useful impetus for related creative writing in KS2 and include, amongst other things, a list of spells, handy hints on keeping your swimming cozzy cumfy, some silly sea jokes and a list of Picklewitch’s holiday souvenirs which includes a top of the range Bonestar fossil hammer. The inclusion of this hammer is a subtle detail that added to my enjoyment of the story and my admiration for Claire Barker’s skill.

The cover and illustrations by Teemu Juhani, an accomplished comic artist, capture the joy, humour and warmth of the story beautifully. I read the book in one sitting on a wet and rather miserable March afternoon and I was happy to be transported to Claire Barker’s whacky world of curious children, friendly witches and grumpy Sea Wizards.

I’m looking forward, even more now, to my next visit to the seaside.

Many thanks to Faber Children’s for the review copy.

If you like Picklewitch & Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret by Claire Barker you might also like: Robin Hood – Piracy, Paintballs and Zebras by Robert Muchamore, Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince by Liz Kessler, Shark Super Powers by Jillian Morris & Duncan Brake, Lori and Max and the Book Thieves by Catherine O’Flynn, The Marvellous Land of Snergs by Veronica Cossanteli and our list of recommended year 3 books.

Browse more books for KS2 or books for KS3

About Patrick Sanders

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Patrick is a former secondary English teacher and headteacher with over 35 years of experience. He is a husband, father and grandfather. Reviews by Patrick Sanders