The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1958)

Don’t you know about the water trial?” Nat’s eyes deliberately taunted her. ” ‘Tis a sure test. I’ve seen it myself. A true witch will always float. The innocent ones just sink like a stone” (p 13).

witch-of-blackbird-pond1It is 1687 and Kit Tyler has fled her home in sunny Barbados to escape an undesirable marriage. With her grandfather’s death, her only living relative is an aunt in colonial Connecticut. Kit books passage on the Dolphin with the last of her money, befriending the Captain’s son, Nat, on the journey.  Arriving unexpectedly, Kit disrupts his aunt’s household. Her Uncle Matthew is a strict Puritanical man who speaks out against the King, much to Kit’s dismay. Her cousin Judith resents the attention Kit attracts from the local boys and while Mercy is a quiet and comforting presence, Kit can’t deny she is another mouth to feed during tough times.

Then she meets Hannah Tupper, a widow believed to be a witch, living by Blackbird Pond. Through Hannah, Kit meets Nat again and a tenuous friendhsip begins. She also begins tutoring Prudence, a neglected girl who blossoms under Kit’s care, in secret at Hannah’s little house. It becomes a sanctuary for Kit until an illness takes hold of the townsfolk and they turn on Hannah and then Kit.

While there are tense, hair-raising moments and acts of cruelty based on fear, the resolution is of the happy variety. Though property is damaged and Kit spends an uncomfortable night in a cold shack, she find happiness with Nat, Hannah escapes to a more companionable situation, and both Mercy and Judith are paired with the perfect suitors. This cheery conclusion, however, does not diminish the horror mind-numbing religious fanaticism and the mob mentality threat to outliers.

Library copy | 1958 | Houghton Mifflin Company | Ages 9 + | 248 pages | ISBN 0-395-07114-3 | $16.00

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