Sunday, August 28, 2011


The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1958, 205 pp


I read this book several times as a kid and it had remained in my memory as a book I loved though I did not remember what it was about. It won the Newbery Award in 1959, the year I turned 13.

At that time there was not a separate genre for Young Adult readers. In my library, where my mother took us every week, there was a children's room and the rest was adult. I would go to the children's room and pick out my own books. This one probably spoke out to me because of the cover, with Kit standing in the marshes looking to the river surrounded by cloudy skies all done in shades of bluish-green. I also had a fascination with witches in my pre-teen years.

Reading it again was the strangest combination of familiarity beneath what felt like a first read. I truly did not remember that the story took place amidst Puritans in the 1760s. I surely did not recall that Kit came from Barbados. It is entirely possible that I had never heard of Barbados when I was 12 and might have been only vaguely aware of what constituted a Puritan.

So I realized (again) that kids can read anything that holds their interest while lacking all manner of factual information related to the book. I can't to this day figure out how that can be true, but it is so. When I read The Winthrop Woman last summer, it was probably all the many readings of The Witch of Blackbird Pond which made it feel so familiar.

The other aspect fairly lost on me back in the day was the romance and love story. I see now that Elizabeth George Speare must have known her Jane Austen. This time, it still took me more than half the story to realize that Kit belonged with Nat. I am not usually so dim about romantic intrigue so I can only assume that Ms Speare was a great writer.

I think what I loved about this book as a girl was Kit herself, with all her warm-hearted impulsiveness, her flaws and her bravery. I could identify with the personality type down to the last brightly hued silk gown along with her love for Hannah and Prudence.

If a book written over fifty years ago can still make me cry (and it did, several times) it is a "good novel" for sure and for all time.

(The Witch of Blackbird Pond is available in paperback on the Newbery shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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