July 20, 2011

Timeless Tales: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

With basics taking up a larger portion of income, buying new books isn’t always feasible. You can request them at libraries, but their budgets are shrinking, too. What’s a reader to do? Easy. Enjoy the classics!

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1959 Newbery Award Winner)

Don’t be fooled by the title. While Speare addresses 17th century witch hysteria, this book is basically the story of a free-spirited girl from Barbados struggling against the constraints of a Puritan community and finding love. 

We meet sixteen-year-old Katherine (Kit) Tyler on a boat near the Eastern seaboard, a “plain girl with a beautiful smile” talking with Nat, the shipmaster’s son—wiry and good-looking, of course. Newly orphaned Kit is the daughter of a Caribbean plantation owner who’s grown up with personal slaves and arrives unprepared for the hardscrabble life of her aunt’s household. Exhausted and furious at being forced to work, Kit thinks she’s found a way out when a rich merchant’s son comes courting and starts building a mansion for her.

But Kit isn’t destined to be a docile companion. She scandalizes adults with her opinions—young ladies do not talk about politics in 1687—and wreaks havoc at her cousin’s school with unscripted lessons.  Despondent and desperate, Kit finds unexpected relief in the meadows near Blackbird Pond, where she meets and befriends an old woman:

“All at once, with an instinctive quickening of her senses, Kit knew that she was not alone, that someone was very close. She started up. Only a few feet away a woman was sitting watching her, a very old woman with short-cropped white hair and faded, almost colorless eyes set deep in an incredibly wrinkled face. As Kit stared at her she spoke in a rusty murmuring voice:

“Thee did well, child, to come to the Meadow. There is always a cure here when the heart is troubled.”

When her relationship with the widow Hannah Tupper leads to accusations of witchcraft and a trial, Kit learns she isn’t as alone as she thought.

I like Kit’s feistiness, though her superior attitude put me off at times. Kneeling beside her cousin Judith to pick onions, Kit scorns the “work that a high-class slave in Barbados would rebel at”. By book’s end, however, she's grown to appreciate her new world, especially since it includes a budding romance with Nat.

Recommended for readers 12 and above.

Have you read it?


  1. Yes! I read this in a Children's lit course in college and loved it, but it's hard to remember details after so many years. I do recall it being relatively sophisticated historical fiction, and thinking younger children might not enjoy it unless it was read *to* them.

    Scapegoating and prejudice are riveting themes that continue to fascinate me, both in fiction and non-fiction and across genre.

  2. VR: The back cover rates this as a book for reader 10 and up. I can't imagine a fourth or fifth grader truly appreciating the historical prejudices of that era. But Speare does a great job of showing how the community mindset contributes to Kit's feeling like an outcast, and that's something kids can relate to.

  3. Speare knew how to write! This was a great book! Thanks for the reminder!

  4. It's been years since I read it, but I rate it high for substance and appeal.

  5. Catherine: I'm rediscovering the joys of classic books and expect to make this type of review a regular feature.

    Tricia: And it still holds up after 50+ years!

  6. Eek! Haven't read it; although I've been meaning to for many years. I'm not sure why I never picked it up as a kid or teen.

  7. Stephanie: It's a pretty quick read and I think you'll enjoy it.


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