Book: The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958) by Elizabeth George Speare (1959 Newbery Winner)
Category/Age: Middle Grades / 9+
Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met. Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when it seems she must give up, she finds a kindred spirit. But Kit’s friendship with Hannah Tupper, believed by the colonists to be a witch, proves more taboo than she could have imagined and ultimately forces Kit to choose between her heart and her duty.
Elizabeth George Speare won the 1959 Newbery Medal for this portrayal of a heroine whom readers will admire for her unwavering sense of truth as well as her infinite capacity to love.
As a child, I was (and still am) endlessly fascinated by learning about the way other people lived, especially if they lived in a vastly different time or place from my own. I’ve always struggled with straight history –dates and rulers and governments and all the rest of it makes me a bit cross-eyed – but give me a good story about a person and I’m hooked. The most mundane details are what draw me in: What did they wear? What did they eat? How did they cook it? Where and how did they sleep? How did they spend their days?
The Witch of Blackbird Pond gives these kinds of glimpses into the life of a teenage girl in the late 1600’s. This story delighted me as a child as I learned about Kit’s new life in the colonies and her struggles to fit in. One of the things I remembered most about the book before rereading it was the strong themes of love throughout: love for family (and the many different forms that can take, whether begrudging duty or total, instant acceptance), love for friends, and romantic love.
I have to admit that when I reread it for this post, I was just a little disappointed. Reading it from the perspective of an adult, I noticed some things that fell a little flat for me. There isn’t a huge amount of character growth for Kit throughout the book, and there don’t seem to be long term consequences for any of her impetuous actions. These often lead her into immediate crises, but these are quickly resolved with hardly any fallout.
It is still a charming book, and I’m recommending it as much based on how much I loved it when I was a girl as much as anything else. There is also the classic “outsider who stays true to who she is and finds happiness because of it” motif, which I think always goes over well – I was going to say “with kids”, but then realized this is possibly even more true for adult literature. I especially recommend this for kids who struggle with history. If you can excuse this lame joke, it really does put the “story” back into “history”, as it excellently balances historical details and references with the plot and characterizations.
Have you read it? Would you give it to your children? Are there any books that come to mind that disappointed you when you first reread them as an adult?
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