11 September 2014

The Witch of Blackbird Pond: 1959 Newbery Award Winner

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book. A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all. Want to keep track of which books I read? Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!

Cover of the book - Used for Identification Purposes only Under the Fair Use Clause

Kit Tyler: Longing to Escape

"There is no escape if love is not there."

Katherine Tyler, known as Kit, is an orphaned English teenager without a home.  Her grandfather, a Royalist and a rich man, has recently died, and his Caribbean home has been sold off to pay debts.  The only place for Kit to go is to Puritan Connecticut, to the home of an aunt she has never met.  Aunt Rachel and Uncle Matthew Wood take her in, much to the delight of Kit's cousin Mercy and to the chagrin of their other daughter Judith.  However, Kit feels lonely, as she doesn't fit in to the stern Puritan society of the hamlet Wethersfield, and longs to escape the confines of her new life.  Her only place of refuge is the meadow surrounding Blackbird Pond, and it is here that she meets the Widow Hannah Tupper.  Hannah also doesn't fit in to the society around them, as she is a Quaker and called a witch by some in the community.  Kit, along with the young sailor Nat Easton and the dim-witted child Prudence Cruff, both of who also don't fit in ti visit the widow in secret.  When Kit's visits are discovered, she finds herself under suspicion of witchcraft and must stand trial herself.  Will her love prevail?

The Witch of Blackbird Pond was the second book of Elizabeth George Speare's to win a Newbery award, and it was the second of her books that I ever read as a child.  In fifth grade, I was introduced to this author when my teacher read The Sign of the Beaver to the class.  Naturally, I sought out another book by her, and the school librarian recommended The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I devoured the book.  Speare's writing style to this day enthralls me, and she makes the time periods come alive in my mind.

Kit is an outsider to the way of life in the community.  She tried hard to be dull and drab, as she feels she must in the strict and stern ways of the Puritans, but there's a part of her that feels like a colorful bird locked in a cage.  This feeling is one that people can relate to.  How often does one smother their own personality to be something for someone else?  While Kit does it out of necessity, she find she can't completely hide who she is, and it is only at Hannah's house that she can ultimately find the freedom to express herself and be who she wishes to be.  She finds love and acceptance with Hannah, but also finds that maybe society at large is not really as discouraging as she thought it to be.  She comes to view her uncle in a new light as the story progresses, and she sees that where she only saw sternness lives also a quiet strength that she never knew was there and a glimmer of the man her aunt has come to love.

This story is set in late 17th century Connecticut, when Puritans ruled New England.  Yet, the way of life as the Puritans knew it was changing, as the King of England started to take more and more of an interest in the shipping and industry of the area and moved to take stronger control of it.  This is mirrored in the novel as the Puritans begin to chafe under the new Royal Governor, with the town divided on whether of not they will acknowledge his rule.  It is well written and ends on a happier note, hiding the turmoil that the area will come to endure and will ultimately assist in leading up to the American Revolution. 

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