When Precious is left home alone with a stomachache, she’s got nothing but a warning from Mama — “Don’t let nothing or nobody into this house” — to keep her company. You see, “nothing or nobody” could turn out to be something awful: the Boo Hag! The Boo Hag’s got a voice that rumbles like thunder and hair that shoots out like lightning. And she can disguise herself to look like anything. So when the Boo Hag comes calling, will Precious be clever enough to outwit even the trickiest trickster?
- Title: Precious and the Boo Hag
- Authors: Patricia C. McKissack and Onawumi Jean Moss
- Illustrator: Kyrsten Brooker
- Cover Artists: Kyrsten Brooker, art; Lee Wade, design
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
- ISBN: 0689851944
- Publication Date: January 1, 2005
- For Ages: 4-8
- Category: Picture Book
- Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? 🎃 Fun.
Precious and the Boo Hag is a fun, spooky, and highly entertaining picture book about a young girl outsmarting a fearsome witch. Precious is home sick with a stomachache while the rest of her family goes out to plant corn. Her mother leaves her with a list of dos and don’ts, with the most important rule being not to let anybody or anything into the house. Her brother warns her that Pruella the Boo Hag—”the biggest, meaning something” you’ve ever seen—will try to get in, using all manner of disguises to try to trick her. Sure enough, Pruella shows up and tries to get into the house, disguising herself as a kindly old lady, Precious’s friend Addie Louise, and even a shiny penny. But Precious is too smart for the Boo Hag: she minds her mother, keeps the door closed, and sings Pruella away, thwarting her at every turn.
The book has a terrific combination of humor and horror with a great message for kids. Precious’s cheerful confidence (and her obedience to her mother) win the day. The story is playful and fun, focusing more on Precious’s cleverness in outwitting the Boo Hag than on Pruella’s frightening bag of tricks, but the more you think about the story the creepier it gets. The Boo Hag can be anyone or anything, but no matter what form she takes she’s always monstrous and unsettling. We never learn why Pruella wants inside Precious’s house so badly, and that lingering uncertainty makes her all the more frightening. Still, the humor and the strong sense of love and family at the center of the story keep it from being too scary for young ones.
The striking art amplifies both the funny and the creepy parts of the story. Pruella is simultaneously goofy and menacing, sometimes appearing with big feet, a scaly tail, huge claws, and wild eyes. When the Boo Hag goes “leaping wildly over the prairie like a March hare,” the image is disconcerting but undeniably hilarious. More than once, I found myself touching the pages of the book to see if I could feel the textures of the collage-and-oil illustrations. They add a lot of charm and character to an already charming story, and kids will be fascinated by their depth and texture.
The book has a fairly high word count (over 1500), but young readers will stay engaged and entertained throughout the story. It’s a rollicking narrative with language full of music. Precious’s refrain—when she “sings her fear” and “sings her victory”—would be a great opportunity for read-aloud participation:
Pruella is a Boo Hag—
she’s right outside my window.
She’s tricky and she’s scary,
but I won’t let her in!
Fairy tales have always served as warnings to readers, and this story is no exception. It teaches kids to obey their parents, overcome fears, and rely on their instincts lest they let a Boo Hag into their own homes. It’s thrilling to watch Precious outsmart Pruella and sing with pride when she does the right thing, and kids will love singing along with her. With warm, lilting prose and expressive illustrations, Precious and the Boo Hag is a delightful picture book that combines the silly with the scary to create a story that kids will ask for again and again.
Boo hags may not be smart, but they sure are creepy. I give this book 4.5 out of 5 coffins.