Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the shores of Connecticut in 1687, far from her beloved home on the island of Barbados. Her unconventional background and high-spirited ways immediately clash with the Puritannical lifestyle of her uncle's household, and she despairs of ever truly fitting in. When Kit meets Hannah Tupper, she is sure she has found a friend at last. But the locals believe that the old woman is a witch, and witches must be burned.
I have to confess that I don't remember even hearing about this book until it was Book of the Month for February over at Book Bitches. Obviously, I am a bit behind, but I guess that is what happens when I have to continually juggle due dates for all of the library books I have out I wasn't going to give it a go, but I am so glad that I did, because this book had me completely enthralled, to the point where I didn't want to read certain bits because I was afraid of what was going to happen, but then again I didn't really want to put it down either!

The novel begins on board the ship that is bringing young Kit Tyler to a new life with her aunt and uncle who follow the Puritan lifestyle. That lifestyle is a stark contrast to the life that she was used to in the tropical climes of Barbados, where she lived in luxury with her overspending grandfather. When he dies she has no choice but to seek a new life. Even whilst still on the boat, Kit stands out, and creates an enemy for herself when she dives into the water to swim after a young girl's doll. Straight away, she comes under suspicion because everyone knows that only witches float.

When Kit arrives in her new town, she struggles to fit in both within her family and the town. She does however attract the attention of one of the more eligible young men in town, but even their courtship is stilted and somewhat sterile. It is only when Kit befriends an old Quaker woman, Hannah Tupper who lives out near Blackbird Pond, that Kit truly finds friendship, but at what cost? In an era of superstition and fear, Hannah has longed been branded a witch.

The edition that I read was a Collins Modern Classics and has an afterword by Jane Yolen where she says:

It amazes me how much of a story is told in such a compressed amount of pages. For a modern historical novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is quite short. At the time it was written, most children's novels were deemed necessarily short. But think how much is crammed into it: a girl's quest; a historical lesson about some of the things that finally led to the American Revolution; information about sailing ships, weaving, colonial cooking, clothing, religious matters of the day, colonial punishments and the drudgery of Puritan daily life. Plus romance, loss, suspicion, anger, fear secrets, friendships and a sense of belonging - to a land, a family, a love and to one's own self. I have to marvel at that compression, the compact poetry of it, and wish that more writers today had that kind of precision and ability to be so beautifully concise.

I couldn't agree more! I thoroughly enjoyed this trip back through time to colonial Connecticut, and I was definitely moved throughout the novel. I believe that this book won The Newbery Award back in 1958, and despite the length of time that has passed since it was first published, the strength of the writing and the story have not been diminished or aged at all.


  1. This was one of my favorite books in late elementary school!

  2. Great review. I've never heard of this book but it does sound intriguing - and short, which makes is different from everything else on my TBR pile! :)

  3. OMG!!! I completely forgot about this book. I loved it so much when I was in school. I've seriously got to go back and read some of the things I loved when I was young. Thanks for this great review/walk down memory lane.

  4. I followed you from Semicolon. This was one of my favorite books as a girl, as was Calico Captive, also by Speare, and I found Witch held up really well when I read it again a few years ago.

  5. I thought this was a great book. I should read "Calico Captive" as well.

  6. I've never heard of Calico Captive. I'll have to see if I can find it!