Saturday, June 4, 2011

Book Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

This was a favorite book when I was a preteen, and I have been wanting to reread it for some time now. So glad I did! And I have it in the house because my BF is tutoring and it's mandatory summer reading for his charge. So when I was reading it, I had his tutoring in the back of my mind and could see so many interesting discussion topics, which all were overlooked when I read it for my summer reading.

Kit was raised in Barbados but upon the death of her beloved grandfather, she sets sail on The Dolphin for the Connecticut Colony and her Aunt Rachel, her only relative. Once there, she struggles to fit in among the Puritans, although she is happy to have girl cousins her own age, Mercy and Judith, to help show her the ropes. In Barbados, Kit was the privileged granddaughter of a wealthy aristocrat but in America, she is expected not only to work all day, but to do chores that her slaves wouldn't even deign to do back home. Meanwhile the young man that Judith likes takes a shine to Kit, and she befriends an old lonely widow, Hannah, who is known as a witch. Hannah, a Quaker, was branded and exiled from Massachusetts. She also becomes friends with young Nat, the son of the captain of The Dolphin, and she begins tutoring Prudence, a child from the village. Kit's fancy ways and her finery and her impetuousness don't gain her any fast friends in the village. Meanwhile, the King is going to rescind the Connecticut charter and wants to give the colony to Massachusetts, which Kit's uncle and many of the other men in town are furious about. You can guess just from the title that at the end, Kit will be accused of being a witch herself.

I thought the resolution to the witchcraft trial was very simple and pat, with the judges showing a great deal of common sense which I'm not sure isn't a bit anachronistic. But for kids this age, it's appropriate. Also the romances all get sorted properly, with Kit and her cousins all ending up with the best men for them. Kit learns to control her temper and her stubbornness a little, and learns that perhaps being taken care of in a fine house isn't all it's cracked up to be. She does a lot of growing up in her year in Connecticut, and I like very much that in the end she's true to herself and while she does compromise a little, she doesn't become a 17th century Stepford Wife. She's resilient, resourceful, honest, and creative. Kit is a heroine all young girls should aspire to, and young boys ought to be able to identify with the history parts. While she does have a lot of fancy dresses, she's not overly girly. Overall, the book is excellent. It gives a good feel for the era without overly difficult language, has a lot of political and philosophical arguments that kids can debate, and really made me want to go to Barbados.

I do wonder why all the jacket treatments over the years show her in a severe black Puritan dress, although it's pretty obvious in the book that while yes, she does eventually end up with a simple calico work dress, she otherwise wears her old silk and satin dresses from Barbados, albeit her simplest ones.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I borrowed this book from my boyfriend who bought it at a chain store.


Julie P. said...

I just suggested this book to Booking Daughter this morning for our mother/daughter book club. Unfortunately it didn't fly. I remember loving this as a kid.

Anonymous said...

I reread this book recently too!
It's definitely one of my favorites!