The Witch of Blackbird Pond
This historical novel by Elizabeth George Speare is published by Sandpiper, an imprint of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond is written for ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Sixteen-year-old Katherine (Kit) Tyler lived with her grandfather until his death in 1687. Without a chaperone, 16-year-old Kit, an orphan, leaves Barbados, an island country in the West Indies, and sets sail for a Puritan colony in Connecticut. Kit's grandfather was a royalist who considered Puritans to be English traitors, so she had never met her aunt's family. Although not invited to her aunt's home, she hopes to live with her relatives — Rachel and Matthew Wood.
During Kit's five-week journey aboard the Dolphin, Kit meets Nat, the captain's son. She also meets Goodwife Cruff, who accuses Kit of being a witch after witnessing Kit's swim in the harbor to retrieve a toy that belonged to Prudence, the woman's daughter. Nat later tells Kit that according to the Puritans, only witches can stay afloat; the innocent ones sink — an omen of events to come.
The solemn New England settlement turns out to be plain and rough, filled with hardworking people, which is a severe contrast to Kit's privileged lifestyle that included extravagant clothes and servants. Everything must be made from scratch, including soap and wool, and leisure is not a part of the Puritan culture. Kit desires to help her cousins, Judith and Mercy, with the chores, yet because of her upbringing, she struggles against doing the work of slaves.
To escape the never-ending work, Kit agrees to teach basic literacy classes to the children at the dame school. But when she has the children act out a Bible story, the schoolmaster angrily dismisses her. In despair, she flees to Blackbird Pond — a setting that gives her a sense of peace. Here she meets Hannah Tupper, an old widow reputed to be a witch. Years ago, the Puritans branded Hannah's and her husband's foreheads because they were Quakers. Hannah, an outcast from the Puritan settlement, quickly comprehends Kit's feelings of grief, loneliness and frustration, and a friendship forms between them in spite of her aunt and uncle forbidding the relationship. Nat Eaton is also a friend of Hannah's, and he and Kit cross paths from time to time at the widow's house. Kit's other chance at escaping the drudgery of her new life lies in the possibility of marriage to a wealthy young man, William Ashby, who has taken an interest in her.
Eventually, John, who visits the family so frequently that he is considered a part of the family, enlists in the militia and leaves. Shortly after, a plague strikes the settlement. Kit, Mercy, Judith and her aunt come down with the fever. Kit recovers first, and she tends everyone and everything in the household.
A mob comes to the Wood home wanting Matthew to go with them to get Hannah, who they think is a witch and the one responsible for the fever that has killed three people. Kit secretly leaves to warn Hannah. She, and later Nat, help Hannah escape aboard the Dolphin.
When Kit becomes the target of the mob's blame, she is arrested for witchcraft. Facing the possibility of having her ear cut off, branding or hanging, Kit endures a trial of charges for befriending a witch and other trumped up charges. Just when conviction appears certain, Prudence Cruff enters the courtroom, escorted by Nat, and testifies that Kit taught her to read and write. After Prudence astonishes the court by reading a Bible passage, Kit is declared innocent.
Subsequently, William resurfaces in Kit's life, but his concern for appearances outweighs his feelings for Kit, and the relationship ends. John returns from war and makes known his affection for Mercy. William's interest in Judith returns, and they marry. Kit makes plans for her life with Nat, now captain on his newly built ship, the Witch.
Members of Matthew Wood's family frequently cite Scripture in conversation, read the Bible and pray in the evenings. All the lessons at the dame school (held in the Wood family kitchen) are Bible-based. The colonial Puritans are Christian, but their moral fervor results in extreme intolerance for views that are not their own.
Other Belief Systems
Some of the Puritans are prone to superstitions, believing, for example, that a bullet cannot kill the cat of a witch and that Hannah Tupper changed into a mouse to escape capture.
None, but since this is a tween book, parents may want to note that part of it is centered on male-female relationships. Mercy is in love with John. Judith, who was in love with William, thinks she loves John, too. William thinks he is in love with Kit, who, in the end, is in love with Nat. Eventually, Mercy and John are paired, Judith marries William and Kit sails with Nat.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- How was Kit's life in the West Indies different from her life in the Puritan colony where her aunt lives?
- What was hardest for Kit to get used to?
- Where have you felt like an outsider?
How has that experience helped you welcome others?
Should Kit have continued visiting Hannah Tupper?
- Was it right for Kit to directly disobey her aunt and uncle?
- How could she have kept Hannah as a friend while still doing what her uncle and aunt asked?
- Read Romans 13.
- How does this apply to Kit?
How might it apply to you?
Which character do you identify with most?
Which character do you most admire? Explain.
The Puritans fled England to escape religious persecution.
- How did they exclude people of other faiths, such as the Quakers?
- Where else do you see hypocrisy in this story?
Where do you see hypocrisy around you?
Proverbs 12:26 talks about choosing friends.
- What did Kit do right in choosing her friends?
- What did she do wrong?
- Why is it important to consider another person's reputation?
How can the wrong association prove disastrous?
Goodwife Cruff targets Kit from the first day they meet on the Dolphin.
- What does she accuse Kit of being?
- How is Goodwife Cruff wrong in her accusations against Kit?
Why don't Kit and her uncle press charges of slander against Goodwife Cruff?
Matthew Wood and the highly esteemed, yet condescending, Dr. Bulkeley heatedly disagree on politics.
- What do both men do when Mercy's life is in danger?
- Is it OK to disagree with people?
- Even if you disagree with someone, how should you treat that person?
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Readability Age Range
9 to 12
Elizabeth George Speare
Sandpiper, an imprint of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Newbery Medal, 1959