CCLE Book Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1958)

“There is no escape if love is not there," Hannah had said. Had Hannah known when she herself had not even suspected? It was not escape that she had dreamed about, it was love.”

- Elizabeth George Speare, 
The Witch of Blackbird Pond

It is January once again, and like last January, I am participating in the Classic Children's Literature Event! If you want even more details about the event, just visit Amanda at Simpler Pastimes. :)

On to the book!

It is the year 1687, a time of Puritans in the New World. When 16-year-old Katherine Tyler's grandfather dies in Barbados, she travels to Connecticut in the New World to live with her only living relation, her Aunt Rachel and family. The journey is rough, but Kit anticipates a warm welcome from her relatives. Her arrival, however, meets with suspicion by the inhabitants of tiny Wethersfield, and even though her aunt is welcoming, her uncle is far from pleased to see her. The town is Puritan, and Kit is far from the legalistic upbringing required to make a good Puritan. Each day brings new struggles, new mistakes, until she meets the one and only Quaker of the town, Hannah Tupper, called a witch by the superstitious townsfolk. Hannah is no witch, instead she is the one person in the entire town who truly delights in living and actually seems to exude the scriptural instruction to love one's neighbor. Kit's loyalties are tested when the town rises up against Hannah.

This book isn't what I was expecting. I don't know why, but I somehow thought it would be a fantasy. Serves me right for not actually researching the book that much, but then, I rarely read the summaries of books for fear of finding out too much. I've had many a good book ruined because the summary on the back cover gives away the entire plot! I'd rather find out for myself. In the case of The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

I admit, I was afraid the book would be anti-religious. And perhaps it is a little, but it's not anti-faith. Instead, Hannah Tupper is a paragon of what a Christian woman should be, both then and now. She is forgiving, compassionate, loving, and she never falters in her love of God. The Puritans stand in sharp contrast to Hannah with their superstitions and fears, all of which to the modern eye are positively ridiculous. But that was how society was in the early history of America. People were afraid of witches, and if any woman dared be a little different or imaginative, they might be condemned as a witch. It's silly now, but was a very real danger in the 1600s.

My sister was the one to always read the Newbery Medal books as a child, but somehow she missed this one, as did I. Nothing really interested me outside of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries that I gobbled up on a daily basis. It's nice, taking the opportunity to catch up on what I missed. I can see why The Witch of Blackbird Pond was awarded that most prized medal in 1959. The book is superb. I'm not so sure I would want a young child reading it, but certainly it should be required reading for tweens and teens. It gives food for thought, and would be a magnificent opportunity for discussion questions. There's even a touch of romantic drama to appease the romantic history lovers.

Out of the three books I've read for my Classic Children's Literature Event this January, this one is hands down my favorite. That might change before the end, but I really can't praise it high enough. I read is in a little under 36 hours, stealing time in between working and meals. I might actually buy this one, it's that good.

Comments

  1. I know this is a Newberry book, but I haven't read it yet. I am going to have to add it to my list of books to read.

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    1. I never was one for the Newbery books, so it's exciting to try some of them. This is probably one of the superior ones. :)

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    2. The only Newbery that I read that I loved was Number the Stars. A good but sad book.

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    3. I think most Newbery books have an element of realism to them that is often associated with sadness and loss. At least, the ones I've read are that way. Number the Stars was really good, and I keep hoping my sister will read it someday. She studies almost anything having to do with the world wars.

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  2. This was one of my absolute favorite books growing up--I think I probably read it about in 5th grade. I remember that the mother of one of my friends was upset that our teacher had a copy in the classroom--she only saw the title and assumed it would be about witchcraft, failing to realize it was quite the opposite. (I believe I once read that Speare was a Sunday School teacher.)

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one so much. If I recall correctly I read two other books by Speare, but this one was always my favorite.

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    1. Sounds like my Grandma with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Just the title was enough to freak her out!

      I just have a thing for early American literature. Almost everything I've read from that era so far, I've loved.

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  3. I loved this one when I was younger, and also Speare's "The Sign of the Beaver," "Calico Captive," and "The Bronze Bow." I have copies of all 4 and can't wait to introduce my kids to them when they're older! I heartily recommend all 4.

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    1. Well, I love her style so I think I'll have to track down the rest of her books! She's excellent and, for me, was a very quick read because I simply didn't want to put the book down.

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  4. I loved this book too! My daughter just read it over again last year and it is still one of her favourites. Speare did an excellent job of presenting an historical issue with clarity and compassion.

    The books Hamlette mentioned are excellent as well. I have to re-read all of them in the near future!

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    1. I wish I'd read it when I was a tween, but my head was buried in my Hardy Boys books at that point and I wouldn't come out for anything. My genres are much wider now! ;)

      At some point I'll give her other books a try too. I'm sure they're equally as excellent.

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    2. I love the Hardy Boys too! Who was your favorite, Frank or Joe?

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    3. Ahah! There's your reply! I knew there was one that I missed. Yes, I'm a Frank girl, always have been. He's the logical one, less reckless. My mom's favorite is Frank too. ;) How about you?

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    4. Frank, Frank, always Frank! I even liked his girlfriend Callie better than Joe's girlfriend Iola.

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  5. I have always meant to read this book and never have, another book to add to my list of books I really must read.

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    1. I think my list of to-reads is around 100 books now, and that's only the ones I've got on my Goodreads account! :)

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  6. With no doubt, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is my favorite book! Speare is a great storyteller, and all her novels prove her great writing skills. Your review is really well written and thoughtful! And your blog is beautiful. Your profile states that you've majored in creative writing. That's what I want to major in when I go to college. You're like my role model. :)

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    1. I wish you the absolute best in your creative degree when you head off to college. It's a very challenging degree and very demanding, but thinking outside the box for plot ideas was so much fun. Some of my best work came from working under stress and just throwing a twist into the story that might be otherwise bland.

      And yes, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a delightful story. I wish more books just stated the simple truth instead of trying to prove something one way or the other. Speare definitely manages to tell a story without preaching.

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