In "Ask A Librarian," I spotlight picture books that are flying under the radar or haven't gotten the love and attention they deserve.
Audrey and Don Wood are the wife-and-husband duo best known for the The Napping House.
The Napping House and Heckedy Peg both feature a domestic setting, repetition and luminous art, but the similarities end there.
Heckedy Peg (first published in 1987) is one creepy book... and my children completely LOVED it. I'm not sure what caught me more off guard - the darkness of the story or my kids' affection for it.
Me: What's your favorite part of Heckedy Peg?
My 4-year-old daughter: When the witch takes the kids.
Sound the panic alarm!
But then I remembered how drawn I was, as a child, to the stories of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The threat of evil is always lurking just around the corner in all fairy tales.
Heckedy Peg is about a woman who leaves her seven kids home alone while she runs to the market. (So it's sort of a PSA, as well...)
From the start, you can feel that Audrey Wood is setting up a riddle-of-sorts. The story's seven children aren't named Molly or Sam or anything remotely predictable. Their names are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
In this stand-out spread, we learn exactly what each child wants from the market:
The mother tells her kids to abide by TWO RULES while she's gone:
- Don't let anyone in, and
- Don't touch the fire
Within minutes, they do both - tricked into disobeying their mother by a wicked one-legged witch named Heckedy Peg.
After quickly talking her way into the thatch-roofed home, Heckedy Peg turns all of the children into food. FOOD. That she intends to eat later.
The witch then hightails it across town with the food (kids) in her rickety cart and settles in for supper in her spooky forest hut. The mother tracks them down, but to earn her kids back, she has to play a high-stakes matching game: Which kid has become which food?
Heckedy Peg is a wild ride that's more engaging and other-worldly than it is scary, and it introduces darkness in a safe, familiar way - through straightforward good and evil forces.
I suspect that Heckedy Peg's characters and images are now imprinted in my daughters' foundational book bank. Thank you, Rita, for this high-quality suggestion, and thank you Audrey and Don Wood for creating this classic title.