Winnie the Witch turns 30!

Peters news (Website) - Elmer day
October 13th, 2017

As one of the nation’s favourite witches reaches a milestone birthday, we have been reminiscing about our memories of the increasingly popular accident-prone character that is Winnie. 

Written by Valerie Thomas, a former school teacher in Australia, the original Winnie the Witch story was first published in 1987.   Shortly after this, in 1988, it went on to win the prestigious Children’s Book Award. Since then it has seen many re-prints and cover changes, and is now available with an audio story CD and sound effects.

The partnership between Valerie Thomas and illustrator Korky Paul proved to be extremely successful and since 1987, something that began as one story about a witch and her cat gradually developed until it became a series of fifteen picture books. These were recently given a fresh new look when republished in 2016 as the Winnie and Wilbur series. The latest title in this series, The Naughty Knight was published in September 2017.

More recently, author Laura Owen worked with Korky Paul to produce a series of Winnie the Witch short chapter books so that older fans can continue to enjoy following Winnie’s antics once they have outgrown picture books.

So, the question that needs to be asked is, why are Winnie the Witch stories so popular? Here are the Peters librarians’ reviews of some of our favourite books:

“Funny detailed illustrations and familiar characters that are constantly developing.” – Winnie and Wilbur, The Dinosaur Day

“Bright, breezy fun with a typically wacky ending. Another Winnie winner!” – Winnie and Wilbur, The Amazing Pumpkin

“Amusing collection of tales in typical Winnie style. Illustrations complement perfectly. Ideal for young reader character fans.” – Winnie and Wilbur, Spooky Winnie

“Zany character still hits the mark in this new format. Magic for building reading confidence.” – Winnie and Wilbur, Mini Winnie

As Winnie the Witch has proven to be such a popular character, it makes an ideal stimulus for teaching and learning. There are many ways in which Winnie the Witch stories can be used in schools and nurseries alongside the National Curriculum subjects.


  • Winnie the Witch’s name uses alliteration. Older children could focus on this or younger children could use her name think about the letter ‘W’ in phonics.


  • Retelling stories in order is an important skill for young children to develop. Any of the Winnie the Witch stories would lend themselves to this type of activity as they are not too long and include plenty of action.


  • Writing speech bubbles for pictures of Winnie and Wilbur in different situations.


  • Winnie and Wilbur are ideal for creating character descriptions for. Making ‘wanted’ posters may be a nice way of doing this.


  • The stories could link to instruction writing by encouraging children to think about how to make a witch’s potion or spell.


  • The Winnie the Witch stories are ideal for work on adjectives. The original story in particular focuses a lot upon colours. This could be beneficial for EAL children.


  • Winnie and Wilbur go on many different adventures throughout the series. Winnie’s house or the places they visit could be used for setting descriptions.


  • Older children may be able to use the stories as a source of discussion, they could be posed the question ‘Was Winnie right to make Wilbur multi-coloured?’ for example, and debate the pros and cons of her actions.


  • Winnie the Witch stories are very imaginative and could be used easily as a stimulus for creative writing. Children could write a sequel to a particular Winnie adventure, or even write about what they would do if they were Winnie the Witch.


  • Winnie could be used to make comparisons between other fictional witches and wizards.


  • The Laura Owen short chapter books could be used as a class reader or in Guided Reading sessions. They are book-banded at Brown level and could be used to answer comprehension questions and create book reviews.


  • Some of the short chapter books (Mini Winnie, for example) use rhyming phrases such ‘sweety-teeety-neaty and rosy-posy smell’. These could be identified and used as part of a lesson on rhyme.


  • Children could be asked to write a letter to Winnie or Wilbur. Older children may even use persuasive language to encourage Winnie to be nicer to Wilbur.


  • As there are so many Winnie the Witch stories, they could all lead to writing activities in different ways. For example, Winnie at the Seaside could encourage children to write a postcard home, The Amazing Pumpkin could allow children to write instructions for how to grow a pumpkin or the newest title, The Naughty Knight (published in September 2017) could see children writing a diary entry of a knight.


  • Children could spot shapes in pictures from Winnie the Witch stories – for example a triangular hat, a cylinder broomstick etc. They could then use 2D shapes to create a picture of Winnie and Wilbur and label the shapes they used.


  • Work on colour and pattern could see children designing a new pair of tights of a new outfit for Winnie.


  • Winnie in Space could encourage children to count backwards to prepare for the launch of the rocket. They could also count down in different multiples.


  • Winnie is 30 years old this year. Children could think about facts based on the number 30, for example, 5×6=30, 30 is half of 60 etc. They may even have a birthday party for Winnie and count our 30 cups, or make a birthday cake (weighing and measuring the ingredients).


  • In the original story, Winnie the Witch, Winnie’s house is black. This could link to Science topics of light and dark and encourage children to think about colours that show up in the night time. They could even investigate different materials to make a suitable coat for Wilbur.


  • Winnie in Space has obvious links to the Science topic of The Earth in space and could be used alongside teaching.


  • Winnie in the Winter and The Amazing Pumpkin could allow children to explore seasonal changes that happen in autumn and winter and also look at growing pumpkin seeds.


  • With Winnie celebrating her 30th birthday, children could think about life 30 years ago. How has life changed since the 1980s? Who do they know that was alive then?


  • Many of the stories can be related to common curriculum topics and can be used to support these (e.g. –The Dinosaur Day, The Pirate Adventure, Winnie and Wilbur at the Seaside, Winnie and Wilbur under the Sea, The Big, Bad Robot etc.)


  • When asked about his illustrations for the Winnie the Witch stories, Korky Paul once replied “Winnie the Witch makes me feel like Jackson Pollock.” He was referring to being able to experiment with bright colours in his drawings. This could be used as the basis of an artist study, either about Jackson Pollock, or other famous artists. Children could make pictures of Winnie the Witch representing the different styles of famous artists, e.g pointillism, Pop-Art, watercolour etc.


  • At the back of most picture books there are colourful pictures that children have drawn of Winnie the Witch on black backgrounds. Children could make chalk pictures on black paper to replicate this style.


  • Making witch’s hats and capes is always a fun activity. Children may even try and dress up as Winnie the Witch.


If you love Winnie the Witch stories you might also enjoy:

Martha Mayhem and the Witch from the Ditch – Joanne Owen

You can’t make me go to witch School – Em Lynas

Class Six and the Eel of Fortune – Sally Prue 

Room on the Broom – Julia Donaldson

The Witch with an Itch – Helen Baugh

The Power of Poppy Pendle – Natasha Lowe

The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy

Bella Broomstick series – Lou Kuenzler

Witches do not like bicycles – Patricia Forde

Witch Wars series – Sibeal Pounder

Meg and Mog – Helen Nicoll

Witchworld – Emma Fischel

Titchy Witch series – Rose Impey

Hubble Bubble series – Tracey Corderoy

Rich Witch Poor Witch – Peter Bently


Which is your favourite Winnie the Witch book? What are you doing to celebrate Winnie the Witch’s 30th birthday? Please share your photographs and book reviews with us on our Twitter or Facebook – we would love to hear from you!



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