- 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.