Title: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Publication Date: Originally Published 1958 (used 2011 version)
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Price: $6.99 (Paperback)
Number of Pages: 272
Awards: Newbery Medal
Genre/Subgenre: Historical Fiction
Barbados-born Kit Tyler must adjust to Puritan Connecticut and avoid an accusal of witchcraft.
After the death and bankruptcy of her beloved grandfather, Katherine “Kit” Tyler must leave her luxurious island home of Barbados and take refuge with her maternal aunt’s family in Connecticut. From the moment Kit reaches New England she is viewed as an outsider for everything from her colorful wardrobe to her education to her ability to swim. However, she does make a positive impression on two New Englanders on the ship to Connecticut – the captain’s son Nate and a shy Puritan child named Prudence. Kit is somewhat reluctantly welcomed by her aunt’s family and tries her best to be helpful and settle into Connecticut life. However, Kit has trouble adjusting to the starkness of Puritan life and the strict social conventions she must adhere to. Despite winning the love of her family and capturing the romantic attentions of the town’s most eligible bachelor, Kit faces scorn and suspicion from the other villagers, particularly when it becomes known that she befriends and helps an old Quaker woman named Hannah who has been ostracized by the village for her religious beliefs. However, Kit finds a sense of home and comfort with Hannah, particularly when she discovers that Nat too has been helping Hannah survive over the years. With the help of Hannah and Nat, Kit teaches Prudence to read and gives the child a refuge from her abusive mother. Unfortunately, a sickness overtakes the village, including Kit and her cousins, and Hannah is accused of causing the sickness with witchcraft. Nat and a recovered Kit are able to help her escape on a ship to a more tolerant part of the colony, but then suspicions are turned on Kit and she is arrested on suspicions of witchcraft. Kit is able to refute the charges with the testimony of Prudence and the help of Nat, but the experience shows her that she will never really belong in this community. Kit decides to return to Barbados and work as a governess, but before she can finalize her plans, she realizes her love for Nat. He proposes to her, and she decides to marry him and travel the world with him.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a wonderful work of historical fiction. It is suspenseful and kept my attention until the very end. I think young readers will love Kit and relate to her feelings of isolation and her struggle to find her place in the world. The novel takes a very sensitive and disturbing topic – the witch trials that took place in early colonial New England – and handles them in a way that is both informative and appropriate for young readers.
Why I Chose the Book:
This may sound morbid, but I had a fascination with the Salem Witch Trials as a young teen and read everything I could get my hands on about this period. When I saw that The Witch of Blackbird Pond was a Newbery Medal winner, I knew I had to use it for this assignment.
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Book Talk Ideas
This book would be perfect for students studying the Salem Witch Trials as part of their American History curriculum.
1. The character Hannah is branded, persecuted, and accused of witchcraft simply for being a Quaker. Why does her religion frighten the other characters? What does their fear say about human nature and how we react to those who are different from us?
2. At the beginning of the novel, Kit is a privileged girl who never had to work or more about money. By the end of the novel, she is contemplating becoming a governess and working for a living. How has she changed over the course of the novel, and what has made her change? Do you like her more or less than at the beginning of the novel?
Amazon (2014). The Witch of Blackbird Pond: Elizabeth George Speare. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Witch-Blackbird-Elizabeth-George-Speare/dp/0547550294/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1396317362&sr=8-1
Goodreads (2014). The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/703292.The_Witch_of_Blackbird_Pond
Speare, E.G. (1958). The Witch of Blackbird Pond [Kindle edition]. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“The Witch of Blackbird Pond.” NoveList K-8. EBSCO, 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://0-search.ebscohost.com.catalog.sjlibrary.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=njh&tg=UI&an=099037&site=novpk8-live>.