Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret AND Heidi Hecklebeck Casts a Spell, by Wanda Coven, illustrated by Priscilla Burris, 118 pp, RL 1.5

The Heidi Heckelbeck chapter book series debuted in 2012 with Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret and is now ten books strong, with two more due out in 2014. Written by Wanda Coven and illustrated by Priscilla Burris, this sereis is ideal for emerging readers ready to step up from leveled readers but not quite ready to tackle traditional chapter books like the Magic Tree House and Junie B Jones. With the slightly larger font and prolific illustrations, girls are sure to love this series, and maybe even a few boys who haven't yet discovered cooties...

Heidi Heckelbeck, who is shy and reserved, really does have a secret and readers will have to wait until the end of the book to find out exactly what it is. Until  it is revealed, we watch a very grumpy Heidi as she prepares for the first day of second grade, which is also her first day of school EVER. Heidi has been home schooled with her little brother, Henry, and is upset about all the new things she will encounter and everything that can go wrong. She turns the smiley face on her pancakes into a frown and bristles when Henry suggests she wear a friendly color like pink instead of what she's wearing, which he thinks looks a bit like a Halloween costume.

Heidi's day gets worse when Melanie Maplethorpe goes out of her way to be mean to Heidi, but perks up a little when Lucy Lancaster gives her a "warm, fuzzy smile." Melanie even ruins the one bright spot in Heidi's day, play practice with Mrs. Noddywonks. Heidi returns home from school insisting she will not go back. The chance to do a taste test for her dad, who works for a soda company called The FIZZ and invents formulas for new soda flavors, and mom's homemade cookies cheer her up a little bit. The book ends with Heidi alone in her room, pulling her Book of Spells out its secret hiding place, deciding to fight mean with magic. Heidi decides to cast a spell that will make Melanie, the star of the play, forget her lines.

In Book two, Heidi Heckelbeck Casts a Spell, we learn that Heidi was given her Book of Spells by her grandmother who, like her mother and Aunt Trudy, is also a witch. Heidi finds a "How to Make Someone Forget" spell (the list of ingredients, which is  mostly food based things, can be seen in the illustration below) and, using a silver pouch her Aunt Trudy gave her, begins to secretly collect the necessary ingredients. Heidi heads off to Aunt Trudy's house for help with her spell since her mother won't talk to her about being a witch at all. Aunt Trudy runs a mail-order perfume business out of her home and her house always smells wonderful. After Heidi explains about Melanie, Aunt Trudy reminds her that witches go to school because they "have to learn to solve their problems without magic first." Aunt Trudy assures Heidi that she has never used magic on her customers and makes Heidi promise never to use magic at school. But, when Meanie Melanie embarrasses Heidi on purpose during play practice, the spell is back on. And it works. But, as Melanie stands speechless in front of the audience, Heidi begins to feel sorry for her in spite of herself and reverses the spell. Aunt Trudy is on to Heidi and finds a gentle way to ask her about what she has done, asking her if she learned anything. Heidi confesses that it "feels terrible to make someone unhappy," but wonders why Melanie seems to enjoy it? The book ends with Aunt Trudy assures Heidi that Melanie will learn how to be kind some day.

Heidi continues to use magic and cast spells throughout the rest of the series, but always with a lesson learned. In book four, Heidi Heckelbeck In Disguise, Halloween is coming up and Heidi, who has a strong sense of fairness and justice, can't stand they way people dress-up like witches, which they know nothing about, for Halloween. When Melanie announces that she will be going as a witch for Halloween, Heidi decides to don a blonde wig and go as Melanie. However, she takes her impersonation of Melanie a little too far, doing things that upset her friends. In book eight, Heidi Heckelbeck Goes to Camp, she tries to win the friendship of the girls there with spells, but in the end decides to be brave and ask the girls why they don't like her. I realize that, in the post-Harry Potter world, a sensitivity to witchcraft and magic in children's books has arisen in some parents and those people will rule these books out immediately. For those of you who, like me, have fond memories of Samantha and Tabitha from the classic television show Bewitched, or perhaps enjoyed Sabrina the Teenage Witch, you will appreciate the Heidi Heckelbeck series and enjoy sharing it with your children. The social issues portrayed in these books are genuine and the way that Heidi and her family handle them are heartfelt and well-meaning, even if Heidi makes some missteps along the way. If I was a second-grader, I would have gobbled these books up! And, for those of you with young readers who do enjoy the Heidi Heckelbeck series, don't miss the great website that includes fun downloads and a Book of Spells  blog written by Heidi herself that is more like a diary.

The Heidi Heckelbeck Series:

Heidi Heckelbeck Is a Flower Girl is due out May, 2014 
 Heidi Heckelbeck Gets the Sniffles is due out September, 2014

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