The Witch of Blackbird Pond


When my husband spotted this on my nightstand he said, “Hey, didn’t I have to read that for school?” And even though I didn’t actually know him back then, I can say with confidence “Probably.” Because I’m pretty sure every kid on the Eastern seaboard had to read this at some point. Is that true for the rest of the country? Does this title trigger grade school memories for you as well?

For the first two chapters, it was awfully hard to shake the sensation of doing homework, but by the time I reached the final chapters The Witch of Blackbird Pond had fully captured my attention. I’ll admit that I found the parts about who was a royalist and what would happen if Connecticut lost her charter a bit dry. I may have skim read those bits since no one is going make me take a test on it later. But even with those more scholarly questions set aside, there are some real and relevant issues of exclusion, religion and adjusting to a new life addressed here.

The vocabulary is somewhat challenging: beholden, tremulous, modish, countenance. Many difficult words will go over easier with those who have read other books from this time period. There’s nothing to worry about really from a content standpoint. I’ve yet to see a third grader read it, so I’m recommending it for grades four and up.

Great for: Lovers of historical fiction. Elizabeth George Speare does a wonderful job of making Connecticut come alive, and drawing it in stark contrast to Barbados where Kit was raised. There are so many small details from the chores, to the descriptions of Kit’s dresses that make this book stand out.

Sex, Nudity, Dating –  There is talk of who will marry whom and people call and court.  Because of the time period, girls are engaged around age 16 and married soon after. A man lays his head in a woman’s lap.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – A child is hit for crying. They state that the Puritans murdered King George. Kit’s parents drowned when she was small. Because of the time period, this books deals a bit with issues of slavery. Nat tells of slave ships where people were “rotting in their chains before anyone knew they’re dead.”  Children are rapped on the head with a pole for laughing in church. Quakers are hanged or branded in Massachusetts.  Prudence’s mother will cane her if she disobeys.  There is talk of resorting to violence if forced to obey the royal governor.  Several men are punished by being put in the stocks, with punishment of thirty lashes at the whipping post should they return to Wethersfield.  Kit is told that the punishment for witchcraft may be hanging or branding or cutting off an ear.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – A mob forms to deal with the witch. In my mind, the parts where the people of Wethersfield are determined they have a witch in their midst are the scariest parts of the book. Sure the militia is sent to manage a little situation with the Indians, but the true terror is in how people who call themselves religious are pushed forth by fear and hatred to seek out “witches” and punish them for their sins. It’s all the more chilling because we know that people did act in this manner.

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2 Responses to The Witch of Blackbird Pond

  1. P.L.W. says:

    And they still do act in this manner….even now. Sadly. The book was first published in 1958, one year after Joseph McCarthy died and around four years after the infamous era of McCarthyism- when some people fostered a similar atmosphere of terror and intimidation and made sane people question the definitions of “patriotism” and “Christian.” Maybe we need a dictionary these days too. Makes me sad to think that some people’s motto is “Stay calm and carry on,” while others are determined to see the worst conspiracy in everything.

  2. stellacarolyn says:

    My mom used to teach this but I never had to read it. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever read it… I’ll have to add it to my list.

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