Smelly Chantelly isn’t the most famous of witchy books. My dad bought it for me at my kindergarten book fair, way back in 1996; even then, I was intrigued (and frightened) by the witch on the cover. However, more than twenty years later, Smelly Chantelly remains one of the weirdest picture books I have ever read. The illustrations are hideous. The main character is a slob.
And, to avoid burying the lead any longer: the book literally stinks. Smelly Chantelly is a scratch-and-sniff adventure, and Smelly’s foraged ingredients are pungently apparent on every page.
The plot of the story goes thus. On the night before the witches’ fancy-dress ball, Smelly’s broomstick runs out of power, sending her tumbling through the roof of an old barn. As she makes her way home on foot, Smelly must find all of the ingredients required to brew a broomstick-restoring spell. (She’d also quite like to win the prize for Best-Dressed Witch, but that’s a secondary concern to getting her broom back in the air.) The child reader is implicitly invited to quest along with her, trying to identify which ingredient Smelly will add to her belt next.
It’s quite fun, really. All of the ingredients Smelly needs can be scratched and sniffed, and if you don’t spot the ingredient straight away, you can try scratching anywhere on the page. My copy from kindergarten has optimistic scratch marks on just about everything.
The only problem is that some of the ingredients smell truly, genuinely awful.
On the fourth page of the book, the reader is told that Smelly’s breath reeks of mildew; the reader is invited to scratch and sniff. Later, Smelly trades her cat for a clove of garlic; the reader is again invited to scratch and sniff. At the end of the book, Smelly realises that the final ingredient she needs is her own smelly sock; the reader is again invited to scratch and sniff. All of these invitations should absolutely be turned down.
My biggest regret about Smelly Chantelly is that my favourite smell in the book (the bubblegum) was immediately preceded by my least favourite smell (the garlic). The bubblegum smelled great, but the order of scratching meant that the bubblegum very quickly became contaminated with the awful stink that came before. I don’t know who edited that aspect of the book, but my five-year-old self would like to give them a very stern talking to.
Overall, I still have really fond memories of Smelly Chantelly. Unpleasant as it could be, the concept of a stench-filled picture book remains delightfully transgressive, and the nightmarish proportions of the character designs further elevate that weirdness. (Smelly’s nose really has to be seen to be believed.) Furthermore, it’s a book from Melbourne, so chalk up another Australian witch in the records!
For the sake of completion, I’m going to finish this report by scratching the garlic again, which I haven’t done in approximately twenty years. I don’t want to do it. I’m really, really hoping the scent has faded.
Nope. Still there. Still terrible. Huge regrets.
— What? You’re saying it’s been two and a half years since my last witch post? Stop yanking my chain. I’m quite certain that this website is regularly maintained and updated.
— A begrudging thanks to author Joan Van Loon and illustrator Chantal Stewart for the fun times spent reading this book, but no thanks to them at all for the times spent frantically scrubbing my garlic-stained fingertips before bed.
— This is a tenuous connection, but The Witching Hours 6 is Anna and Max’s smelliest adventure of all. I’m sorry that book six hasn’t been released yet, but the way this year is flying by, I’m sure it’ll be out before we know it!