I picked up this book at our local library actually as a book on CD, to listen to on my rather long commutes. I didn’t realize from the CD case that it was a Newbery winner, but when I looked at the list, there it was.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George is the story of Kit, an English teenager growing up in the late 1600s. She grew up with her grandfather on an estate in Barbados, but as the book opens her grandfather has passed away, and Kit must head to the far off land of Connecticut to live with her only remaining relative, an aunt she has never met. In Connecticut she finds a stark, Puritan world full of grueling daily work (and no servants!), unforgiving New Englanders, cold winters, colonial politics she doesn’t understand, and long Sundays in the Puritan meetinghouse. Kit struggles to fit in with this world unlike anything she has known herself, having been raised in a wealthy home.
At its heart, this is the story of a spirited girl displaced from her home and searching to find a place in the world. Kit is goodheartd but a bit too outgoing, loud, and spunky for Puritan standards, so she has many run-ins once arriving in Connecticut. While teaching school children to read, she decides to have them act out “The Good Samaritan” fable from the Bible, only to have things get a bit out of control just as the school master walks in the room. She jumps in the river to save a child’s doll, only to discover that the water is quite freezing (compared to her home in Barbados) and that in New England it is believed that only women who are witches can float. Kit’s Uncle Matthew, a respected, devout Connecticut man, is time and again harried by Kit’s enjoyable antics.
The meat of the story (and where it takes it name) happens when Kit befriends an old widow who lives outside of town and is thought to be a witch.
I found this a fine read, though it didn’t make my top ten children’s books. Despite Kit’s warmth and fun, I found the Connecticut Puritan setting a little grey for my taste. However, some people swear by this book, and even cite it as the book that got them into reading as a child. There is also plenty to be loved about Kit’s relations with her rival cousin Judith (Kit mistakenly steals the boy Judith had her eye on!) and disabled but big hearted cousin Mercy. Finally, the rich historical setting really puts some flesh on the whole concept of the Protestant work ethic, which I learned that I very clearly lack!