Bestselling Teen & Young Adult Disaster Books in 2020
Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem
- National Geographic Society
Exist for Now (The Infected Dead Book 4)
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
- SQUARE FISH
Life As We Knew It (Life As We Knew It Series Book 1)
The Bronze Bow
Anatomy of a Tornado (Disasters)
- Used Book in Good Condition
Alas, Babylon (Harper Perennial Olive Edition)
Survive for Now (The Infected Dead Book 2)
Fallout (Lois Lane)
Disasters: Natural and Man-Made Catastrophes Through the Centuries
"The Witch of Blackbird Pond": Lessons for Today
"The Witch of Blackbird Pond" is treasured in the realm of childrenâ€™s literature, because it allows young adults to vicariously experience a strict, challenging historic era that extends significant lessons unto readers of the modern era.
"The Witch of Blackbird Pond", written by Elizabeth George Speare in 1958, displays the impact of setting in 17th century Puritan New England on the plot and a variety of major characters, including protagonist Katherine "Kit" Tyler. Young adults are the intended audience for this book, because it contains a teenage protagonist and several teenage characters. It also deals with issues of discovering personal identity, controversial societal rules, and characters who deal with conflicting emotions as they mature. "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" is treasured in the realm of children's literature, because it allows young adults to vicariously experience a strict, challenging historic era that extends significant lessons unto readers of the modern era.
Such an integral setting influences the plot and characters, and also creates curiosity in the reader to learn more about Puritan life, traditional gender roles and witch trials. The bleak winter climate and hard-working ethic of New England is no treat for Caribbean-loving Kit Tyler: "There was meat to be chopped, and vegetables to prepare for the midday meal." That hard work is part of Connecticut Colony's setting; it is work that builds Kit's character yet makes her long to leave. The audience may be compelled to do research to discover that Wethersfield, Connecticut was a real 17 th century town that was colonized by the Puritans. The Puritans indeed lived challenging lives in which survival was the main focus of each day. Hard work and possessing a strong family unit contributed to the chance of each Puritan's survival, as the Wood family knows all too well.
While gender roles are becoming less prevalent in the 21st century, 17th century males and females lived lives that centered on their gender. Matthew Wood, Nat Eaton and John Holbrook were expected to possess certain occupations (i.e. farmer, sailor, militia and minister); women were expected to raise and teach children, keep a clean home, and care for neighbors in need. Often, Mercy, Judith and Kit lament on Matthew's predicament of not having a son to assist with the farm work. Matthew plows and does hard labor by himself, because the women are not allowed to do that type of work in New England. While the women have difficult jobs in the home (i.e. soap-making, candle-making, cooking, and carding wool), their only way of earning extra money is to teach at the dame school.
Also, the setting can only take place in New England where the witch trials were centered during a brief time period. Superstitions ran rampant and hard-working, overly-religious Puritans were looking for someone to blame for terrible maladies. In the book, Hannah Tupper must die according to the Puritans, because a disease has spread and she must be the culprit. While swimming is a fun and life-saving skill for the modern day person, being able to swim in Puritan days was considered suspicious witch behavior. Kit's handsome horn book and fashionable dresses were perceived as scandalous in a time where plainness was valued. In fact, on her first day to Meeting in a silk dress, Matthew Wood exclaims, "You will mock the Lord's assembly with such frippery." The audience may feel compelled to read historical transcripts of the Puritan's witch hearings and trials to understand the outlandish charges set before a courtroom which became more like a circus than a place for justice.
Speare effortlessly shows the audience how several of her major characters mature or come of age throughout the book, especially Kit, Nat and John. Kit struggles to accept a strange American lifestyle in Wethersfield after her privileged lifestyle in Barbados. American life has several restrictions, mostly due to the overly religious lifestyle the Puritans possess. After her first Sabbath meeting, Kit is indignant and stamps her foot: "I absolutely won't endure that all over again!"
As time goes on, Kit does her best to assimilate to Puritan life. Speare compares Kit to a bird through dialogue with Nat: "Once, when I was a kidâ€¦ there was a man with some birds for sale. They were sort of yellow-green with bright scarlet patchesâ€¦ But father explained it wasn't meant to live up here, that the birds here would scold and peck at it. Funny thing, that morning when we left you here in Wethersfield â€¦all I could think of was that bird." Speare further uses bird imagery to show how Kit feels like a caged bird; sometimes she sits "perched" or wears a "scarlet" cloak. While Kit's inner thoughts first linger on leaving America to return to Barbados, she realizes she needs time to understand her changing emotions and desires.
Finally, Kit is aware that "The Dolphin would be home enoughâ€¦ It was escape that she had dreamed about, it was love. And love was Nat." Carefree sailor Nat Eaton enjoys his independent way of life, but by the book's finale, he longs to settle down. In the book's beginning, Speare introduces Nat by describing his intense blue, mocking eyes, and how his wiry body is continually twisted or swinging in the Dolphin's rigging; he and the ship are one. The reader understands that he and Kit share a common love of reading, especially Shakespeare's The Tempest. Speare lets the audience learn the most about Nat through descriptions of meetings with Hannah and how he views Kit as a colorful, out-of-place bird in a somber world. Nat's friendship, loyalty and love for Kit are shown through his risky action of bringing Prudence to the hearing to save Kit's life. He wears the blue captain's coat at the book's conclusion which shows his maturity and his resolve to ask Kit to be his wife: "I'm not going to disappoint you, Kit. When I take you on board the Witch, it's going to be for keeps."
Likeable John Holbrook is Kit's intelligent companion on the Dolphin, yet time spent working under Gershom Bulkeley seems to leave Holbrook without a voice of his own. At their first meeting on the Dolphin, John had shared with Kit how he taught himself Latin and, even though he was a tanner's son, how he longed to go to Harvard. However, "One week in Wethersfield seemed to have changed the dignified young man she had known on shipboard. Tonight he appeared to be a shadow, hanging on every word from this pompous opinionated man [Gershom]."
Matthew Wood, John's future father-in-law, is under the impression (upon his first meetings with John) that he has become Gershom's puppet. After getting caught up in courting Judith against his true emotions for Mercy, John joins the militia. After being held captive by Native Americans and enduring implied life and death struggles that are not described in the book, John becomes his own man again. He returns to Wethersfield to ask for Mercy's hand, and he decides to remain under the wing of Gershom if he "will teach me theology and medicine, but I will think as I please". It is expected that shortly after his marriage to Mercy, John will receive his own congregation in the west part of Wethersfield and dutifully help Matthew with the farm work.
Although the book takes place in the 1680s, the various themes presented are relevant to the audience in modern times. The warning to not hastily judge others is the novel's primary theme. Despite their Christian morals to help their fellow neighbors, the Puritans are not accepting of the Quaker widow, Hannah Tupper. They categorize her as a witch, because she lives on the outskirts of society and doesn't go to Sunday meetings. Kit finds solace in her friendship with Hannah, who actually reads the Bible and is a kind, generous woman. Kit is compelled to save Hannah's life in the novel's building suspense. Also, the Puritans cast judgment upon Kit Tyler even while she tries her best to assimilate to American social life. Not only do they stare at her queer clothes, but they put her to trial for witchcraft using false evidence and the fact that she has superior swimming skills unique to the time period. Audaciously, she is asked, "Is it true that you were also acquainted with a certain cat which the widow entertained as a familiar spirit?"
Loyalty is another theme presented in the book. Matthew and Nat are outspoken against the king and his proposed changes for American life. William Ashby's loyalty still lies with the king until he realizes Connecticut Colony's charter needs. Kit, whose grandfather "was a king's man", becomes uneasy witnessing Americans' conversations questioning loyalty to the king. However, she questions herself on this issue for the first time; should she remain loyal to a king who now lives thousands of miles away from her new country? Also, Kit's friends and family members' loyalty are tested during her prison time and hearing. Loyal Uncle Matthew says whatever possible to help his niece: "But I swear before all present on my word as a freeman of the colony, that the girl is no witch." William does not come to her rescue, yet Nat risks imprisonment to save Kit's life. In the book's conclusion, Kit realizes Nat's loyalty is the main reason why she has fallen in love with him.
Also, a secondary implicit theme that will be important for young adults relates to the old adage, "To thine own self be true." While Kit matures and comes to the realization that she needs to keep her emotions in check more as she ages, she continues to have her own independent thoughts and adheres to what she believes in. Kit risks her life to help innocent Hannah Tupper. While Prudence's family shuns her, Kit takes time out of her own day to help the waif of a girl have a better life. While life with William Ashby would be comfortable and less physical work, Kit unselfishly understands that William would never be happy with her bold personality and brash ideas. Yet, Nat understands her personality and is a better match for her, because they both love helping others, reading and traveling. Kit will get the best of both worlds; she will get to see Barbados again with her new husband, and she and Hannah will have a lovely garden in Saybrook during the summers.
The significance of Speare's "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" in children's literature is its ability to let young adults step into the lives of a specific historic era with relevant lessons for any era. The realistic, major characters are endearing to readers, and so human-like they can relate to any reader -- even though they reside in an integral setting in centuries past. Lessons of judgment, loyalty to others, and staying true to oneself will quite possibly keep this book a classic for centuries to come.