The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Digital Audiobook narrated by Mary Beth Hurt
Published by Laurel Leaf on May 15, 1978
Genres: Children's, Classics, Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 256 pages or 6 hours, 24 minutes
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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!
With the exception of a few passages about the Native Americans (typical era stuff – raids and scalping) this book is utterly fantastic. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into with The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Was it a witch hunt book? The girl on the cover looked like a colonist, so that seemed to align with what I thought I was getting. I suppose it is a witch hunt book, but in the most minor way. In its greater parts, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a fantastic story to teach children about the dangers of fear and prejudice.
Katherine “Kit” Tyler is sixteen when she arrives in Connecticut on the Dolphin, hailing from her old home in Barbados. Immediately she gets off to a bad start when she differentiates herself from the passengers that get on board at Seabrook. Children are raised differently in Barbados than these strict Purtian families, and Kit is baffled when she is accused of doing wrong.
So begins the narrative of right vs. wrong and the damage people do when they do not understand someone, or when they are afraid because someone is different. And I like Kit. She looks at the world and asks the sorts of questions people don’t want to hear. She is vivacious and stubborn, but she is also kind.
I have to confess I was a bit surprised by this book as I listened – I did not expect this novel to touch upon issues that I think are so prevalent in our culture today. I look at the claims of witchcraft, and I think about the white supremiscists in our country who could use a reminder that despite skin color, we are all people and deserve equal rights and treatment. That there are those who have been spat upon all their lives for the way they look, and we must strive to understand what it would be like to walk in their shoes.
In the passages about how Kit will have to marry William whether she liked it or not… and I think about the ongoing discussion about women’s rights and that Row vs. Wade is back in the headlines and the truth that women have the right to their own choices – whether in their futures or in their bodies. All of it.
It felt strange that this little book, geared for a middle grade (or maybe YA) audience, made me think of all these things. But it was in a light, practical way. There was no rage, only knowing… if that makes sense.
Either way… this was a fantastic book. It’s actually a romance at its heart, but I just liked following Kit and learning about the world around her that felt so strange and new. Kit grew into herself slowly and understood herself well by the end of the novel, and I enjoyed seeing that. I think that this is a wonderful piece of historical fiction overall, and should be read.