The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is one of my favorite books. As the story unfolds, I have some definitive opinions and reactions to the book. I was able to make personal connections and relate the story to other experiences.
Kit is trying to escape an unwanted marriage and gives up everything she has including her safety net to avoid a life she has no desire to pursue. The first time I read this story, I didn’t fully understand what that might mean. Now as an adult, I realize the significance of that decision. In 2006, I moved to the KY/TN area, a three day drive away from my family in Arizona. I was moving to a new life, a new marriage, and a new career as a teacher. This was a scary time in my life, even though I loved my husband very much. I still had a safety net. I could have easily moved back to Arizona at any time. Kit had to get on a ship that took her on a journey lasting several weeks. If her Aunt did not welcome her into her home, Kit would have been penniless and homeless. During that time frame, she would have found it difficult to find employment and lodging.
When we meet the character Prudence, I was struck by the plain nature of the child’s appearance, behavior, and even her toy. It reminded me of listening to my grandmother discuss growing up as a child during the Great Depression. My grandmother did not have toys. She lived on a farm in Minnesota. She shared with me that her toys were rocks, sticks, and mud. Along with her many siblings, they would pretend in the farm fields and had little else to call their own. For meals, there were occasions where all she had to eat was bread with bacon grease spread across the top. They didn’t even have the money for butter. Eventually, my grandmother was sent to live with an aunt in Wisconsin. There wasn’t enough food to feed everyone. My grandmother earned her keep at her aunt’s home cleaning as a live-in maid. Prudence at least had a toy, and while her meals were most likely simple in taste and quantity, she had enough to eat. When I first read the book, I felt tremendous pity for Prudence. Today, I see Prudence as an example of what can happen to a child’s spirit if they aren’t encouraged and taught they are valued. Prudence’s mother underestimated her, claiming she was stupid. Therefore, she would not allow Prudence to attend school. She did not feel compassion for Prudence when her toy doll fell overboard. She did not show love to her daughter. Later in the novel, the father learns the mother was wrong, and the child was quite intelligent. From that moment forward, I inferred that Prudence would be supported in school by her father, and she would be loved by both parents, although the mother would struggle to show it. Because she learned to read and she had a father who could not read, he was very pleased and proud that his daughter could now read. He showed his daughter how proud he was and pleased with her as a young lady. So, how does this relate to my grandmother? My grandmother may have had no toys, but I know my grandmother was loved and cherished. Therefore, I learned a valuable lesson from this book: poverty of spirit is worse than poverty.
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Boston, MA, Houghton,