In about a week I will introduce a group of 6th grade students to one of my favorite novels, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. The Newbery Award-winner of 1959, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the story of Katherine “Kit” Tyler who leaves her home in Barbados to live with her Aunt Rachel and Uncle Matthew in the Connecticut Colony. The year is 1687 and, compared to Barbados, Connecticut is gray, oppressive and cold. The story centers on Kit’s friendship with the Widow Tupper, a Quaker who many in the town believe is practicing witchcraft.
I love teaching this novel because the possibilities for extensions are endless: life in the early American colonies, the role of women, the differences between Puritans and Quakers, and the growing tension between the colonies and England. I also like to introduce the story of the Salem Witch Trials which were held in 1692, only five years after the events in this novel take place. Beyond the historical connections, there are so many interesting relationships in the book, especially between the one between Kit and her aunt and uncle. The book is compelling, grounded in New England history and has, at its center, a strong inspirational protagonist. Speare herself had this to say about Kit Tyler:
“I do not believe a historical novel should gloss over the pain the ugliness.
But I do believe a hero…should on the last page…..still be standing,
with the strength to go to whatever the future may hold.”