Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publisher: MacMillan London Ltd.
Original Title: Wilkin's Tooth (changed in 1974, for the American edition)
Genre: Children's fantasy
Witch's Business was Diana Wynne Jones' first children's book. To be clear, this is not a picture book; it is a chapter book, but while many of her books could easily be considered young adult, this one is firmly in the children's book category, perhaps best for the 8-12 age range. However, this is also one of the first books she ever wrote, preceded only by Changeover, an adult novel. As you might expect, it is not up to the standards of her later works, and is probably not the best introduction to her works. On the other hand, young children are more likely to overlook problems with the story structure, so perhaps it all works out.
Witch's Business is the story of two children, brother and sister, who find themselves short on pocket money. In an attempt to fix this problem, they start up a business for the neighborhood children, a revenge service called 'Own Back' (as in 'get your own back'). Predictably, this gets them mixed up with the local bullies, outcasts, and pests. As it emerges, though, a lot of the problems they come across are actually caused by one individual, and old lady living down by the river in a run-down shack. As you might guess from the title, this lady turns out to be a witch, and soon the kids are involved in a magical battle, despite having no magical powers of their own.
Even this early on, Diana Wynne Jones already has the knack for writing 'kids acting like kids' characters, where the story focuses on very realistic interactions between the kids (if you grew up on Homer Price and Danny Dunn, this was a rare commodity). Unfortunately, she doesn't quite have the knack of introducing the reader into the story's world down yet. In the beginning of the book there is no indication that this is going to be a fantasy story of any sort (I suspect this is the primary reason for the title change; otherwise, I greatly prefer the title Wilkin's Tooth), By the end of the book, the story is saturated in magic of the most drastic sort. As the story goes along it's hard to get a grasp if the magic is real or pretend, or how powerful magic will be in this world, which results in rather unsatisfying magic. I'll not give you any spoilers, but I will say they the final showdown is also a little disappointing.
I've read this book twice now, and it was better the second time through. I'm not certain what a modern youngun' would make of it, as it is written not only with lots of 1970s British jargon, but also with a lot of made-up swear words (because the bullies swear constantly, and you can't have they say really bad words in a children's book). I suspect that today's spoiled bookworm, raised on the likes of Goosebumps and Captain Underpants, might find it hard going, overly long, and confusingly English. Perhaps even if they are English.
For those of you who've already read the bulk of Diana Wynne Jones' work, this book is perhaps most comparable to Archer's Goon. It is certainly one of her light fantasies, and perhaps a little more satisfying than others of her shorter works (e.g. The Game). It does not, as far as I am aware, share its world with any of her other books.