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“This expertly crafted story thrums with magic, love, and tense action.” —Booklist (starred review)

Perfect for fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, this fantastical and heartfelt first book in a new trilogy from critically acclaimed and New York Times bestselling author Jodi Lynn Anderson follows a girl who must defeat thirteen evil witches.

Twelve-year-old Rosie Oaks’s mom is missing whatever it is that makes mothers love their daughters. All her life, Rosie has known this...and turned to stories for comfort. Then, on the night Rosie decides to throw her stories away forever, an invisible ally helps her discover the Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, a book that claims that all of the evil in the world stems from thirteen witches who are unseen...but also unstoppable. One of these witches—the Memory Thief—holds an insidious power to steal our most precious treasures: our memories. And it is this witch who has cursed Rosie’s mother.

In her quest to save her mom—and with her wild, loyal friend “Germ” by her side—Rosie will find the layers hidden under the reality she only thought she knew: where ghosts linger as shades of the past, where clouds witness the world, and a ladder dangles from the moon leading to something bigger and more. Here, words are weapons against the darkness, and witch hunters are those brave enough to wield their imaginations in the face of the unthinkable. The knowledge of her beloved stories is an arsenal in this world, but to unlock their power, Rosie must dare to have hope and believe in herself in the face of daunting odds.

Reading Group Guide for

Thirteen Witches, Book 1:

The Memory Thief

By Jodi Lynn Anderson

About the Book

Why doesn’t Rosie’s mother remember her own daughter? Why doesn’t she hug Rosie or laugh with her? After years of being sad about it, twelve-year-old Rosie learns that a witch called the Memory Thief cursed her mother long ago. Rosie and her best friend, Germ, can suddenly see ghosts in Rosie’s house and around their small Maine town. With the help of Ebb, a fourteen-year-old ghost, the girls scheme to remove the curse. But the Memory Thief and her powerful companion witches hate humans. How can Rosie and her friends defeat them? Rosie, who loves to write stories of magic, must turn to her greatest strength to save herself and her mother from total destruction.

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the prologue and how it foreshadows important parts of the story, citing specific connections. What main characters does the prologue introduce? How does it create atmosphere? Why do you think the author chose to include it instead of just starting with chapter one?

2. “I’m very short and quiet, and I’m stubborn and good at making things up.” Rosie describes herself this way early in the story. How accurate do you think this is? Which of her actions support the description? Does she change over the course of the book? What else would you add to her character description?

3. Why is Germ so important to Rosie? Describe their relationship. What are Germ’s strengths and talents? What is her family like? Why do the other kids at school want to be around her? Describe what’s going on with Germ and Bibi, and how Rosie feels about it.

4. Why is Rosie worried that Germ is “losing that strange, wild, fighting-spirit piece of herself that makes us fit together so perfectly”? When does the story reveal that “strange, wild” part of Germ? Give examples of when the two of them fit together so well. What are signs that Germ is changing? Do you ever feel this way with any of your friends?

5. Discuss Rosie’s mother. How does she treat Rosie for most of the story? Why does she do this? What does Rosie learn about her mother’s background and her earlier adventures? How has Rosie’s mother changed by the end of the book, and how is she still the same? Compare and contrast Rosie’s mother and Germ’s mother.

6. Discuss the scene where Rosie burns her stories. Why has she written these stories? Why does she burn them? How does her decision relate to Germ? What are the consequences of burning them? Do you agree or disagree with her choice?

7. Rosie says that one thing her stories do is to “fill in a half of me that’s missing.” Find other places in the novel where she talks about feeling like something is missing. How does that feeling turn out to be related to the hospital and the day she was born? How is it related to her mother gazing out to sea?

8. Who is Ebb, and what is his history? How do Rosie and Germ get to know him? How does he help Rosie? What motivates him to assist, and how does it put him in danger? Describe his role in going with Rosie to find the Memory Witch’s home.

9. Who is the Murderer, and what is his history? What is his connection to Rosie’s house and to St. Ignatius Hospital? Why is Rosie afraid of him? Why does Rosie think that doing a good deed might help the Murderer? Do you agree or disagree with her?

10. Where is the novel set, and how is it important? Do you think the story could have been set in a different place or time and still have felt the same? Explain your answer. Where do the witches live? Describe the Memory Witch’s home. Describe the Moon Goddess’s home and how to get there.

11. Identify ghosts other than Ebb and the Murderer. Who else lives at Rosie’s house? Who is Homer, and what does he look like? What is Rosie’s initial reaction to him, and how does that change? What is the story of his past? Describe the cemetery and the other ghosts there.

12. Discuss the Memory Witch and the Time Witch, and what you learn about them in the prologue. What does Rosie find out from Ebb and Homer about the other witches? Describe the Moon Goddess. What are the witches’ relationships to the Moon Goddess? How does Rosie interact with the goddess?

13. Describe Rosie’s journey to reach the Memory Witch’s home. What role does Ebb play in the journey? Why doesn’t Germ go down the tunnel with Rosie and Ebb? Give details about how Rosie defeats the Memory Witch. What kind of skills or character traits does she rely on that are helpful to her?

14. The spider, Fred, turns out to be vital to Rosie’s success. Describe Fred, his past, and how he ends up with Rosie when she enters the Memory Witch’s home. What does he do to help her? How do his skills make a difference? If you’re familiar with the book Charlotte’s Web, draw a comparison between Charlotte and Fred.

15. Books matter a lot to Rosie. How have they helped her and made her life better? What kind of books does she particularly love? Name the books that her mother takes back from Rosie’s room, and explain why her mother removes them.

16. Describe The Witch-Hunter’s Guide to the Universe. How does Rosie learn about it? Who wrote and illustrated it? Talk about the “hidden and invisible fabric that permeates the world” that is discussed in the guide. Why does the guide say, “Imagination is a piece of the hidden fabric that only humans can wield”? How is the topic of imagination explored throughout the novel?

17. How does the novel end? Did the ending surprise you? What role do Ebb and Wolf have in motivating Rosie? What do Rosie and Germ intend to do as the book closes? How do you think their mothers will react? How has each of them changed since the book opened? How has their friendship changed?

18. What does Germ mean when she says, “‘It’s my world, too, Rosie . . . And I want to fix it.’” Why does Rosie then think, “I’m not the only one who’s been trying to choose between doing nothing and doing something.” Find indications earlier in the book that Germ is worried about the world. What are her concerns?

Extension Activities

1. The Witch-Hunter’s Guide to the Universe describes thirteen witches. Invite each student to create a fourteenth witch to add to the guide. They should write a description based on the guide’s format that includes a curse, skills, familiars, and victims. Students should also draw a picture of the witch. Create a classroom book of these witches.

2. The novel is filled with figurative language that paints vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. Below are some examples. Have students discuss their imagery and then find five more examples that they like from the book. They should write a sentence or two about each example, commenting on the imagery, the comparison that’s being drawn, and why they like it.

“like spinning grass into gold” (chapter two)

“Germ is bottled lightning.” (chapter three)

“a strange, sea-urchin feeling prickling in my chest” (chapter six)

3. Gather copies of Where the Wild Things Are, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. Have students meet in small groups to read the stories and discuss how the stories relate to The Memory Thief. Ask students to think of other stories about lost children, and then talk about why the theme of lost children is common in fairy tales.

4. Ask students to write an essay reflecting on the conversation Rosie has with her mother about art. Rosie’s mother says, “‘like poetry and stories—art is a way of looking for something true.’” She continues, “‘A great man once said, “An artist is here to disturb the peace.”’” Students should address how the conversation relates to the novel, and explore the role of poetry, stories, and art in their own lives.

5. BookSnaps are ways for students to respond to a page of text by photographing or writing down the selection and annotating it. Have students choose a page from The Memory Thief and create a BookSnap to share with classmates. Annotations can be made by circling, underlining, or adding words, or by adding emojis. Students should note imagery, vocabulary, tone, or other ways the author conveys the story. Find how-to videos using different online tools here: tarammartin.com/resources/booksnaps-how-to-videos/.

Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a youth librarian for seventeen years who chaired the 2002 Newberry Award Committee. She now gives all-day workshops on new books for children and teens. She tweets at @kathleenodean.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Photo Credit:

Jodi Lynn Anderson is the bestselling author of several critically acclaimed books for young people, including the May Bird trilogy and My Diary from the Edge of the World. She lives with her husband, son, and daughter in Asheville, North Carolina, and holds an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College. 

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. The Memory Thief. 336p. (Thirteen Witches: Bk. 1). S. & S./Aladdin. Feb. 2021. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481480215.

Gr 4-8–Growing up with an indifferent mother, Rosie quickly learns to take care of herself and find the love she seeks in her own stories, which she shares with her best friend. When she decides that she is too old for storytelling, she unknowingly opens up her inherited power of “sight.” Rosie comes from a long line of witch hunters who have the ability to see deeper into the world around them. She learns of witches, ghosts, a moon goddess, and how dangerous her life may become. Coming face-to-face with one of the 13 original witches, Rosie has to learn her place and powers in this new world. Anderson weaves a beautiful tale of beauty and darkness. This larger world is described eloquently in its magical details and terrifying dangers. Readers will come to understand the importance of love, friendship and imagination, while being warned against those who feed off of these good parts of the world. This first book in a new series ends on an intriguing note for future titles. VERDICT For fans of Cornelia Funke’s “Inkheart” and Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon, fantasy fans will have much to enjoy with this one.–Julie Jesernik, Warrenville P.L., IL

– School Library Journal, December 2020

It’s always been up to Rosie to make sure things get done around the house, because her mom simply can’t. Existing in fog of forgetfulness, her mother spends her days in the attic office doing data entry and staring out at the sea. Otherwise, the sixth grader is going through typical tween growing pains, chief among them the worry that her best friend, Germ, is outgrowing their friendship. This fear prompts Rosie to destroy her notebooks of “childish” stories, unintentionally activating an ability to see magic in the world around her. Ebb, a ghost who lives in her house, fills in many blanks for Rosie about her mother’s past and her own destiny as a witch hunter. Rosie doesn’t have much time to absorb this information before she has to confront the Memory Thief, the witch who stole her mother’s memory on the night of Rosie’s birth. Anderson skillfully applies this layer of magic to a relatable story of growing up and coming into one’s own. The dynamic between Rosie and Germ rings true in both its reliability and its newly felt strain, and Anderson’s malevolent witches are truly unsettling. First in the Thirteen Witches series, this expertly crafted story thrums with magic, love, and tense action, and it’s a sure bet for Joseph Delaney or Kelly Barnhill fans.

– Booklist STARRED Review, January 1, 2021

A girl uncovers family secrets and faces off against a witch called the Memory Thief.

Sixth grader Rosie wishes her cold, neglectful mother loved her—readers know from the prologue that her mother’s under the Memory Thief’s powerful curse—and copes by writing fairy-tale–esque stories. But when Rosie’s bold best friend, Germ, starts growing up faster than Rosie, she worries she’ll be left behind. Deciding to set aside her childish things, she burns her stories; in doing so, she awakens her sight, which allows her to see all the ghosts in her house. Friendlier ghosts lead her to her mother’s hidden witch hunter’s manual and educate her on her family’s long, tragic quest against the 13 evil witches who counter the good Moon Goddess. But the sight also draws the attention of the Memory Thief’s servants, bringing the witch directly up against Rosie. With help from Germ and a ghost friend, Rosie must learn how her mother protected her as a baby and obtain a weapon to use against the witch. The will-they-grow-apart friendship storyline is handled with love and nuance. The magical plot requires lots of exposition but reads quickly. At times, development of the themes—for example, the magic and power of stories—can be a little heavy-handed, but readers who connect with Rosie likely will benefit from such reassurances. After the resolution, the stakes are ramped up to tease sequels. Whiteness is situated as the default.

A bighearted adventure. 

– Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2021

On the night Rosie Oaks was born, her witch hunter mother managed to hide her from the Memory Thief and the Time Witch, two of thirteen embodied cosmic forces of darkness and human suffering. They took Rosie’s twin brother, though, and left her mother without memories. When aspiring storyteller Rosie exhibits the ability to see the magical and spiritual layers of the everyday world, it’s up to her to defeat the Memory Thief to protect herself and try to cure her mother’s amnesia. Readers will feel their heartstrings tugging as Rosie makes the best of having to be the present, responsible one in their family of two. Her fear of losing best friend Germ to popularity and her awkwardness around Ebb, a helpful boy (even if he is a ghost), speak to solidly middle-grade social dynamics. The witches are too vaguely defined to be really effective villains or metaphors for worldly ill, but they may be developed in subsequent volumes of the series. Ultimately, the forces of evil (and teenagerhood) prove no match for faithful friendship and inner strength, and Rosie procures both a happy ending and the beginning of a new adventure to be continued. The emphasis on stories as vehicles for hope and empowerment will speak to anyone who’s ever found comfort in a book.  FHK

– BCCB, February 1, 2021

In this heavily allusive fantasy set in coastal Maine, narrator Rosie, an avid fantasy writer, lives alone with her neglectful mother, leaving herself parental notes (“You look taller today, sweetie”). When her best friend, assertive and athletic Germ, suggests that the new sixth graders abandon childish things, Rosie burns her stories, inadvertently unlocking a special sight that reveals the ghosts—some friendly, some menacing—coexisting in her home. Helping to locate an old volume, The Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, the ghosts disclose the existence of 13 witches who conjure the world’s evil, Rosie’s mother’s past as the last known witch hunter, and the root of Rosie’s mother’s neglect in the covetous Memory Thief’s curse. But the sight also places Rosie, and others, in danger of that witch and her emissaries. In this novel of ghosts, memory, and story, Anderson (Midnight at the Electric) weaves components of children’s literature mainstays into a dreamlike first-person narrative. Though reveals are clearly telegraphed, an atmospherically rendered villain and a layered portrait of two friends intent on rescuing each other elevate this trilogy opener. Ages 9–13. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Mar.)

– Publishers Weekly, March 1, 2021

More books from this author: Jodi Lynn Anderson