Friday, May 10, 2013

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

It has been a long time since I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover how well it held up over time.  Quite deservedly, it was the Newbery winner in 1959 and it may have been my first "witch trial" novel, a sub-genre I still enjoy reading.

The story begins in April 1687 and Kit (Katherine) Tyler, 16, is sailing to her new home with her puritanical aunt and uncle in the colony of Wethersfield, Connecticut.  Kit has grown up in her grandfather's lavish home in Barbados after the death of her parents.  But now he is gone, too and there is no money to maintain the kind of life Kit had with him.

The only problem is that her aunt and uncle don't know she is coming, and, oh yes, Kit doesn't know they are Puritans.  And to make matter worse, on the way to Wethersfield Kit manages to get on the wrong side of Goodwife Cruff when she jumps into the Connecticut River to retrieve a toy belonging to her daughter Prudence Cruff.  Naturally, the first mutterings of witch are heard since Puritans believe that only witch's don't drown.

Of course, Kit's aunt and uncle take her in and to her delight, she discovers that she has two cousins - Judith and Mercy, both around her age.  Kit tries to fit in but her impulsiveness keeps falling into disfavor by those around her.  After she suggests that the kids in Mercy's "dame school" act out a Bible story, Kits runs off in tears after the minister harshly chastises her for it and finds herself in the great meadow where the witch of Blackbird Pond lives.  The so-called witch is just a woman named Hannah Tupper, who had been run out of Massachusetts by Puritans for being a Quaker after being cruelly punished for her  religion and is barely tolerated in Wethersfield by the Puritans there.

During a visit to Hannah, Kit also discovers that they have a mutual acquaintance - Nat Eaton, the son of the captain of the boat that brought Kit to Connecticut from Barbados.  Though she is somewhat attracted to Nat, he seems more interested in helping Hannah.

Hannah's cottage is an attractive place to outcasts - soon Prudence Cruff is also a regular visitor.  Not allowed to attend Mercy's "dame school" because her mother claims that she is too simple to learn, Kit secretly teaches her to read at Hannah's and discovers that Prudence often spends time there without her.

At the same time, Kit is being courted by William Ashby, a wealthy young man who could provide her with the kind of lifestyle she had enjoyed in Barbados.  The only problem is that Kit isn't attracted to William and the reader can immediately see he is more suited to her cousin Judith.

Trouble begins when a serious illness befalls the residents of Wethersfield, causing some of the children to die.  When Hannah is blamed for causing it using witchcraft, a band of citizens plan to go to her cottage, kill her and burn down her home.  Kit hears about the plan, but she is busy taking care of the gravely ill Mercy.  Can she do anything to save Hannah from certain death? And later, save herself from accusations of being a witch, too?

I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond on my own the first time and I thought it was a good story about a
Original 1958 Cover
young girl.  I didn't really appreciate the variety of issues it addresses, such as religious intolerance between Puritans and Quakers, political tension between those who were loyal to the King of England and those who wished for self-government, and of course, accusations of witchcraft that was levelled at anyone who was different, as were Hannah and Kit.  Interestingly, Kit's story takes place a few years before the famous Salem Witch Trials in 1692.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond also provides a wonderful window into the culture and everyday life for the girls and women in this country in the 17th century, including education, courtship, marriage and running an efficient home and even ideas about friendship.

The author, Elizabeth George Speare, really researched her topic, making this one of the best historical fiction novels for young readers.  She has skillfully blended in well known historical facts of the time and place well that we have planned a summer trip to Wethersfield to see it for ourselves.

This book is recommended for readers aged 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library

If you are thinking of using this book in the classroom or for homeschooling, here are some excellent guides that you might find useful:

The Glencoe Literature Library Study Guide to The Witch of Blackbird Pond
and
Independent Reading Guide to The Witch of Blackbird Pond

This is book 1 of my 2013 Pre-1960 Classic Children's Books Reading Challenge hosted by Turning the Pages
This is book 4 of my 2013 Award Winning Reading Challenge hosted by Gathering Books

5 comments:

  1. I loved this book as a kid! Wonderful reminder to read it again!

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  2. Yes, it is a wonderful book. So many people have said how much they loved it.

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  3. Alex, I am almost ashamed to admit that I have not read this classic! Of course, I know the title well. Your review has spurred me to put it on my list of must reads!

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  4. i love this book!!!!

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