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Top 100 Children’s Novels #36: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

#36 The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1958)
53 points

Somehow I never read this one as a kid, and that fact hasn’t bothered me.  But if you check out the 90-Second Newbery video of this title at the end of this post, you’ll be forced to agree with me when I say . . . where can I get that book?

School Library Journal described the plot as, “The setting is the Colony of Connecticut in 1687 amid the political and religious conflicts of that day. Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler unexpectedly arrives at her aunt and uncle’s doorstep and is unprepared for the new world which awaits her. Having been raised by her grandfather in Barbados, she doesn’t understand the conflict between those loyal to the king and those who defend the Connecticut Charter. Unprepared for the religious intolerance and rigidity of the Puritan community, she is constantly astounding her aunt, uncle, and cousins with her dress, behavior, and ideas. She takes comfort in her secret friendship with the widow, Hannah Tupper, who has been expelled from Massachusetts because she is a Quaker and suspected of being a witch. When a deathly sickness strikes the village, first Hannah and then Kit are accused of being witches. Through these conflicts and experiences, Kit comes to know and accept herself. She learns not to make hasty judgments about people, and that there are always two sides to every conflict.”

This was Speare’s second children’s novel. Silvey says that with this book, “After spending a year and a half working on the novel, Speare sent it to Mary Silva Cosgrave, the editor who had rescued her first book, Calico Captive, from a pile of unsolicited manuscripts. Cosgrave found the manuscript for The Witch of Blackbird Pond to be the most perfectly crafted she had ever seen. Because Speare had been so thorough in her research and in the way she had pieced the book together, Cosgrave suggested only one minor correction before the book went to press.”

It won the Newbery, of course, beating out The Family Under The Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, Along Came A Dog by Meindert Dejong, Chucaro: Wild Pony of the Pampa by Francis Kalnay, and The Perilous Road by William O. Steele. But Silvey reports a shocking piece of news about that committee. “Although the details of the Newbery’s selection process usually remain confidential, the chair of the committee revealed that The Witch of Blackbird Pond won the Newbery Medal unanimously on the first ballot, an extremely rare event.” No secrets that year, I see.

Of course Lizzie Skurnick had to have her say about the book over at Fine Lines.  A sample:

“What’s wonderful about Witch — and what distinguishes it, I think, from the American Girl novels I like to flog unmercifully because I don’t think novels should have branded stores with cafes that serve things like ‘American Girl Pasta’ — is that the narrative isn’t a flimsy cover for a history lesson, and neither is Kit a stand-in for heroic, spunky girls resisting the powers-that-be everywhere.”

And I adore the covers.  Particularly the romance novely ones like this:

Finally, no video will ever compare to this MAGNIFICENT one created for the 90-Second Newbery.  Behold!

It’s the flaming torches I really love.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. The flaming torches were awesome, but the representation of the love polygon at the end was my favorite part.

  2. I decided not to vote for this one — but only because in my heart, it’s a YA novel. The love story is the incredibly wonderful part for me. But it also works as the story of a girl finding her place. It is a magnificent book, and part of that magnificence is the broad age range that will love it.

  3. Meredith says

    One of my favorite books ever, and the example I always give myself when I think that I don’t like historical fiction. If it’s good historical fiction, I love it.