The Widow's Broom
By Chris Van Allsburg
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992

The Widow's Broom is a children's book that is a bit more meaty than the average children's picture book, with a fair amount of text on each page. It also has excellent illustrations, as one would expect from Van Allsburg.

A witch is out flying one night when her broom's magic suddenly gives out. She falls out of the sky and lands in widow Minna Shaw's vegetable garden. The witch recovers quickly and disappears into the night, but she leaves her worthless broom behind.

The broom is perfectly functional, so Minna starts using it to sweep the floor. It isn't long before the broom is sweeping on its own... it is a magic broom, after all. Minna quickly discovers that she can teach the broom to do all sorts of chores, from chopping wood to playing simple tunes on the piano. But when the neighbors see this, they decide that this is almost certainly the work of the devil, and decide to burn the broom. Minna and the broom come up with a cunning plan to save the broom, and to punish the neighbors.

The actual story consists of just eleven pages of text, although they are more substantial pages than found in most picture books, with 3-4 solid paragraphs each. This, together with a slightly darker story than most picture books, makes it a good transition between picture books and chapter books. Of course, while the story is quite nice and is well written, one of the big selling points of the book is Van Allsburg's illustrations.

Van Allsburg produces highly realistic, highly detailed drawings. As with with many of his books, The Widow's Broom is in black and white, but it doesn't subtract at all from the the art or the story. If you don't recognize the name, Van Allsburg is the author/illustrator of Jumanji, The Polar Express, and The Wreck of the Zephyr, among many others. This book stands up to his other works in the quality of the art, although the illustrations lack the surrealism of Jumanji or The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

The Widow's Broom is a good book for reading aloud or as a transition for younger readers who are ready to handle something harder than the basic easy reader. It is also a fun read for older readers who enjoy good art and amusing fairy tales.

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