I am really excited to share my review of The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare today. This novel won the Newbery Medal in 1959 which surprised me because I didn’t realize it was so old! I have heard so many good things about this book. And when I picked it up at my library last month, I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself. It was fantastic!
- This is not a fantasy novel (which I may or may not have thought before actually reading the book or a summary of it). The witch in the title is in reference to the witch trials in colonial America. I have only a basic understanding of that time period so I found this fascinating!
- I haven’t read many books set this early in American history and I loved reading about the politics, living conditions, and religions of this time. The conflicts between the Quakers and the Puritans were intense between the faiths but also within the Puritans. The descriptions of everyday life are easy to picture. I could see myself trying to cook and clean along with Kit and struggling through the weekly meetings on a hard backed chair. I could feel the sea air on the boat with Nat and feel the warmth of Hannah’s fire.
- The action in this book is clever and surprising. I wasn’t sure how it would end! In fact, because of the great action, I read this book in a few days. I couldn’t put it down!
According to Goodreads, “Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean island she left behind. In her relatives’ stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely. The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat. But when Kit’s friendship with the “witch” is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!”
Kit is a fantastic main character with such a complex journey from freedom and privilege to hard work and despair. I was impressed by how willingly she changed her life and how hard she worked to help her new family. But I also appreciated that she doesn’t lose her passion or kindness. While those traits do get her into trouble (even serious trouble), she is true to herself and what she believes in. Her friendships with Hannah and Prudence are beautiful. I love the way these women build each other up and find the best in each other. Kit’s willingness to sacrifice her time, talents, and even her life for these friends is truly beautiful.
At the heart of this book are the relationships between characters. I think they are so interesting. The central relationship between Kit and Hannah is beautiful and peaceful. They bring out the goodness and kindness in each other. I adore Kit’s relationship with Prudence. That sweet little girl is stronger than she knows because of Kit’s faith in her. I found it interesting how different Kit’s relationships with Judith and Mercy became. Judith used Kit for her own ends as she did with many other people. She didn’t seem to want to build a friendship for the sake of a friendship. While Mercy can understand people in deeper ways and exudes charity. The romantic relationships are fun to compare as well. Kit and Nat’s easy friendship is so fun to read about while I cringed at the awkward exchanges between William and Kit. I teared up with John finally admitted his true feelings at the end of the book and loved the way the happily ever afters find each character. I was touched by the journey Uncle Matthew makes in this novel and the loyalty he and Kit build together.
The witchcraft is fascinating. I was surprised by how easily people could be accused of witchcraft. But I was also intrigued by how Hannah seemed to have elements of magic surrounding her. She gave her friends peace, wisdom, and love that seemed to change the world around them. The emotional intensity of the final third of the book is almost palpable. The trial scenes where the townspeople bring up all this evidence against Kit is intense and fascinating. I found myself wondering if we had been given only half the story throughout the novel–perhaps because we get the scenes from Kit’s point of view we were only getting part of what happened. I started doubting her with the rest. But then Prudence and Nat bring hope and reason back to the room. Simply fascinating!
Overall, I loved this book!! It is a fascinating journey that teaches readers about the power of courage, the importance of standing up for those you love, and the ways we sometimes define each other unfairly. A beautiful novel!
Have you read any books set in colonial America that you’d recommend?
Favorite Newbery winners in the 1950s?
I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.