The Dorrie Books by Patricia Coombs
'This is Dorrie. She is witch. A little witch. Her hat is always on crooked and her stockings never match.'
When I was younger my mum would often take us to the library to get picture books out and it was there that I first discovered Dorrie. I just remember, as a young child being totally drawn into Dorrie’s world. I loved the spooky town of Witchville, the sparkly looking magic potions, the eerie silhouettes of witches flying across the sky and the ominous feeling that there was a bad witch lurking somewhere in the story.
I think also that the Dorrie books stood out from other books with their black and white illustrations, often offset by just one or two colours. They seem so different now from the brightly coloured and commercial illustrations that grace the covers of most children’s books today. Thinking back, it was probably quite unusual that my local library actually stocked them. To this day I have never met another person in real life who has heard of the Dorrie books, which makes me think that they must not have been very well known, or at least not in England.
The two Dorrie books that my library had were ‘Dorrie’s Play,’ and ‘Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs,’ so these are the ones I remember from my childhood. There was one time I was reading ‘Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs’ for the first time in bed and my parents were having a dinner party downstairs. I turned the page and this face leered up at me:
At the time it gave me such a shock that I remember jumping right out of bed and running downstairs to show it to my parents in the middle of their party! It still freaks me out a little bit today.
The stories are all set in Witchville, the town where Dorrie and her mother the Big Witch live. They live in a house with a tall tower where the Big Witch makes her potions and magic. They also live with Cook, an ogreish, bossy but good at heart type of character and Dorrie’s black cat Gink who follows her everywhere.
Dorrie and Gink are forever getting into scrapes and getting involved in things that they shouldn’t. In ‘Dorrie and the Weather Box,’ they creep into the Big Witch’s secret magic room and try to make a spell to change the weather.
Of course nothing goes to plan and Dorrie and Gink end up causing it to rain and thunder inside the house. Eventually the Big Witch comes home and sorts it all out. Well kind of. She makes a mistake too and it starts snowing orange snow instead!
I just love the visuals for this story. The image of the orange snowman is so striking. It’s such a great idea. And so quirky!
‘Cook climbed out of the oven. She fixed tea and sandwiches and they all sat round the snowman in the hall and watched it melt.’
Little fact for you: Later on , after having collected almost all of the books (to great dismay of my bank balance) the style of the illustrations changes somewhat over the series.
The first books in the series are a lot more graphic looking. The pictures are blacker with more block-like colours.
Halfway through the series the illustrations become much more subtly drawn. They seem as though they might have been created with some sort of soft pencil. In fact some of the lines are so faint that they almost fade into the page.
And then at the end of the series Patricia Coombs starts using full colour.
The other thing I find interesting is that Dorrie seems to grow up over the course of the books. In the earlier ones such as ‘Dorrie and the Weather Box,’ and ‘Dorrie and the Wizards Spell,’ she looks very young.
Later on in ‘Dorrie and the Witchville Fair,’ for example, she becomes much taller and older looking
Another interesting little fact that I noticed is that the drawings on her bedroom wall (pictures above and below) also improve over the course of the books! So I’m guessing that it was Patricia Coomb’s intention that Dorrie gets noticeably older. Or maybe it could have been something to do with the fact that Dorrie was based on Patricia Coombs daughter. Maybe Dorrie grew up at the same time as her daughter. Who knows!
I think what I love most of all about the Dorrie books is the slightly creepy but comforting atmosphere. I have never seen books like them before! Having a penchant for slightly-spooky-but-not-too-scary things they really encompass everything I would want out of a children’s book!
I am really grateful that I was lucky enough to come across the Dorrie books as a child. Now at twenty three and studying to become a children’s book illustrator myself, I can see how unique they are and how much of an inspiration they have been to me.
I have lots of favourite children’s book characters but none of them quite tops Dorrie. She is my very very favourite and takes pride of place in my bookshelf! I can’t get enough of that little witch!
p.s. now, amazingly, they have started to re print a few of the Dorrie books using a print on demand service on Amazon. So if you also love Dorrie, remember her from your own childhood, or get inspired by this post and don’t have any of the books then some of them are now a bit easier to get hold of.