Tag Archives: renee the elegance of the hedgehog

meena/characters who are not what they seem


There’s this one house on Fly Street. That’s where Meena lives. The neighborhood kids, Klaas Thomas, and Christa, are convinced Meena’s a witch.

I have to thank Lindsey at A is for Aging for introducing me to Meena, a picture book originally from Belgium, by Sine van Mol, illustrated by Carianne Wijffels.


Not only does it show that not all old ladies are witches(!), it’s a gorgeous book that explores fears of the unknown.









The neighbor kids  fully convince themselves  Meena is a toad-eating, blood-drinking witch; they’re terrified of her. Their fear comes out as vile meanness toward the old woman: plans to ruin her, terrible notes, w-i-t-c-h spelled out in front of her door.







Then another girl visits Meena and the kids are sure she’s walking straight into a Hansel and Gretelesque gingerbread house. She claims she’s visiting her grandma. But the other kids just know Meena’s put her under a spell to make her say that.




Things change with a fresh-baked pie, a loyal granddaughter, and one boy being brave. But all the way until the conclusion, the children’s fear spills from the pages. Fear of all the places their wild imaginations take them. Fear of stereotypes, that the old woman with a wart who lives alone must be a witch. And Wijffels’s turquoise and red illustrations drip with what’s in the children’s minds. The art is full of surprises too.



And as it turns out, wouldn’t you know it? None of the kids’ conjecture is true.


Thanks to Eerdmans Young Readers  for the images. 


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 I love a full of surprises character like Meena. So I’ve compiled a list of some other characters like that who come to mind, all by the way, from wonderful books. But my list of three can’t be complete. Who’ve I left out?



Harper Lee‘s elusive Boo is feared and fussed about by Scout and Jem. He’s a scary figure, a  recluse surrounded by rumor. But no, that’s not who Boo Radley is at all. And his name isn’t Boo, it’s Arthur. He is a recluse, but a tender-hearted one who looks out for Scout and Jem. He even saves them in the end.



The book/ Robert Duvall as Boo Radley in the 1962 film.  




Renee in The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is  concierge for a French apartment building. She has been for 27 years. “I have always been poor, discreet, and insignificant…I correspond so very well to what social prejudice has collectively construed to be a typical French concierge that I am one of the multiple cogs that make the great universal illusion turn…”

She affects all the stereotypical trappings of someone in this job, hiding her intellect, love of literature, and fondness for  Ozu films. Until she, twelve-year old Paloma, and the new Japanese man upstairs connect.


 The novel/the film



Because of Winn Dixie is classic Kate DiCamillo, her debut and most enduring book. At one point,  main character, Opal’s dog named Winn-Dixie lunges into Gloria Dump’s yard. Some boys tell Opal Gloria’s a witch who’ll eat the dog.

“I finally decided that I was more afraid of losing Winn-Dixie than I was of having to deal with a dog-eating witch, so I went through the gate and into the yard.” Thus, Opal discovers  Gloria Dump may not have any teeth, but that does not make her a witch. She’s a super nice lady who feeds Winn-Dixie peanut butter and dispenses kindness and wisdom to Opal for the rest of the book.

(This one’s been made into a film too! I have yet to see it.)

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Okay, who’d I miss? Any similarly surprising characters come to mind?

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