I've abandoned my randomly generated list in order to tackle some of the more Halloween-y appropriate books this month. Last week was Violet Park's Me, the Missing, and the Dead. This week, I revisited one of my favorite books I read for class in the fifth grade: Elizabeth George Speare's Newbery Medal-winning novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
After her grandfather's death, Kit Tyler, sails from Barbados to Connecticut to live with her only living family members. While Kit knows she will be welcomed into the family, she does not anticipate the strict religious beliefs governing every move in her new Puritanical home. Kit struggles to adjust to the Puritan lifestyle while maintaining her own beliefs. Her often unconventional behavior immediately arouses suspicion throughout the town and it is only made worse when she befriends a Quaker woman whom many believe to be a witch.
There's a lot to work with in this piece of historical fiction: the value of hard work, the pressure to adapt to change, the right to education, the right to independent beliefs, the need to accept others with varying viewpoints, etc. My favorite is how the strength of women is explored in both positive and negative lights. Kit is a positive force - resisting conformity through charitable actions for those deemed unworthy. The "witch," Kit's family, and Prudence are also positive reflections of women's strength. But throughout the novel "women's talk" is used as a weapon against those who are different. It saturates the town and becomes powerful enough to drive a woman into hiding and bring another to trial. It's a realistic portrayal of the fanaticism that really existed during the witch trials and it's interesting to contrast it to the actions of the other positive female characters in the novel.
A few of the students have seen me with this book and have exclaimed that it's one of their favorites. That makes me happy. Sure, the ending might be a little too happy than realistic, but it's still a great way to introduce children to the actual events of that time period.