Amanda and the Witch Switch
Story and Pictures by John Himmelman
This book is dedicated to Mom,
and to the fond memories of Grandma Nault.
I was beginning to fear my first book was a fluke. I'd sent a few more stories to Dial over the next 3 years, including this one, and they were rejected. I was still working nights as a cook and toiling at the drawing table during the day. This was the pre-home computer era and the manuscripts were typed on a Brother word processor, at the time the most advanced piece of technology in my home - I loved that machine!
Betsy and I were in the early stages of building a house out of an old cinderblock building once used on her grandparent's pig farm. It was surrounded by woods, which I'll get to in a moment.
In 1984, my son Jeff was born. Things were getting real! Then, I received a phone call. It was Regina Hayes of Viking Kestrel. She wanted to publish Amanda and the Witch Switch! I hung up and ran around the house screaming like a nutcase. Fortunately, I was home alone.
John Himmelman's Stories' Stories
I was once told by one of my instructors in college that a lot of my characters tend to be "pointy". I guess that was kind of true - Amanda certainly is - her hat, nose, chin, fingers, and feet... And her wand - a sentient crescent moon, whose expressions mirrored its owner's. At the time I was playing around with a character, Mr. Moonhead, that looked something like what I drew for her wand.
I should mention that I did NOT have to do color separations for the art! Viking found a printer in Asia that did the job cheaply enough to allow me to paint full color - watercolors in this case. The lines were drawn on smooth bristol with a thin-nibbed (4x0) Rapidograph pen.
The brown-green colors of the ground and toad were inspired by Arnold Lobel's palette for his Frog and Toad series. I found comfort in the earthy tones of his characters and backgrounds.
This was my favorite picture to draw. There's a ladybug accompanying Amanda in most of the pictures. A teacher at School of Visual Arts once talked about adding what he called an "agent" to illustrations to ground the illustration and to give the viewer something to search for. His was a cigarette butt on the ground. That always stuck with me and a subtle ladybug companion would reappear in a later book - Snuggle Piggy and the Magic Blanket.
My grandmother passed while I was finishing up the illustrations and somewhere in the trees on one of the pages, I worked in her initials - "A" and "N", for Antoinette Nault.
Amanda and the Witch Switch received some good reviews and was another Junior Literary Guild selection. Some of the art was displayed at the Master Eagle Gallery in NYC, where I got to meet (but didn't get to speak to) my children's book idol Arnold Lobel. I was just one of the throng of admirers surrounding him that night, trying to soak in just a little of his magic.
So, back to those woods I mentioned. The piece
of property we were living on contained 17 acres of
second growth woodland, which I loved to explore.
I often brought my sketchbook with me. On one
such excursion, I sat on a rock and drew - for no
particular reason - a witch holding a toad.
This is the sketch on the right.
I turned that into a story about a witch who grants a toad
3 wishes. One of those wishes was for Amanda (I just
liked that name) to turn him into a witch.
Then, he went and turned her into a toad.
Toads can be ungrateful jerks, I guess the lesson is.