1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 5/5

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is about one town’s collapse into paranoia in 17th century New England as accusations of witchcraft lead to tensions between the townspeople. Kit Tyler is caught in the crossfire in the Puritan community as she and her friends are accused of casting a spell that causes children to become ill.

Kit is a well-drawn heroine who encompasses the traits of a great literary character. As a proactive character, her journey from spoiled rich girl to loyal family member shows her strength of character as well as her many flaws. An impulsive, former slave owner, Kit is not the typical American hero, yet by the end of the novel, she has managed to find the best within her.

The contrast between Kit’s sunny home in Barbados and the dreary shores of New England seemingly reflects her state of mind. Kit is at first astonished by America’s conservative ways, and it’s depressing to see how a bright, young woman must adapt to her new town. Her salvation comes in her trips to the open meadow, where the titular witch becomes a source of guidance for her. The author allows the reader to see what Kit is feeling and her response to her situation.

Kit’s newly introduced cousins also add some drama to the plot. Mercy’s politeness and soft-spoken ways is put up against Judith’s desire for a decent marriage as the girls get involved in a love triangle. I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed reading about the relationship between Kit and her strict Puritan uncle as he gradually becomes more open-minded and proves where his loyalties lie. Their relationship allows the reader to get two different insights into Puritan beliefs, both the good and the bad.

While the book is mainly about the events leading up to the witch trial, Kit’s thoughts often turn to her potential marriage with the rich, but ill-suited, William Ashby. Feeling confined by the new societal pressures, she sees marriage as her only escape, but she also fondly remembers her friendship with the sailor who keeps standing up for her. The love story, though secondary to the main plot, is engaging to read about and provides some further conflict for Kit.

This 1959 Newbery Medal winner had all the qualities that make a great book – an enjoyable main character, an entertaining plot and a satisfactory ending. I remember this book being read to me by my school librarian as a kid, and I remember being bored by it. I think the bland cover may have put me off the book. I’m glad I got to give The Witch of Blackbird Pond another chance because its themes are timeless and still relevant today. As far as children’s historical fiction goes, this book is a winner.

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