The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond  cover

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare was first published in 1958 and it’s a Newbery Medal winner. I must admit that I had never even heard of this author until I was very kindly sent a copy of the book by Jennifer of Holds on Happiness.

It’s 1687 and Katherine (Kit) Tyler is on board the Dolphin, sailing from the Caribbean island of Antigua to New England. Kit had had a very luxurious life, her parents were both dead and it was her grandfather who had brought her up, he was a titled plantation owner, but when he died there were lots of debts and Kit had to sail to her only known relative, her mother’s sister – Aunt Rachel. Aunt Rachel lived in Wethersfield, a small town in the Connecticut Colony. The town is a horrible culture shock to Kit who is used to the lush countryside of Antigua, the ‘roads’ in Wethersfield are just dirt tracks and the houses are all wooden shacks.

Her Aunt Rachel and Uncle Matthew Wood get a bigger shock though when Kit arrives at their cabin, she hadn’t told them she would be arriving and it’s obvious that she’s not really welcome. Life for them is already difficult with just two daughters, one of them crippled, and no boys to help Matthew with the farm work. Kit had never had to do any house or field work before, she had had a slave to help her in Antigua, but had had to sell her slave to pay for her passage on the Dolphin.

Life in the Wood household is hard and joyless, as it is in the whole town, it’s a Puritan colony and they are suspicious of people who aren’t like them, and Kit with her beautiful silk dresses is suspect, she can read and she can even swim, some think she might be a witch. The locals dislike anyone different from them and particularly hate the elderly Quaker woman who lives in a shack near the river.

This was a really entertaining read. It was good to be in the company of Kit who is a strong character, determined to do the right thing despite the evil tongues of some of the locals. After some angst there is a very happy ending for all, just what I was needing at the moment.

I imagine that as this book was at one point required reading in US schools some of you will be familiar with this one. Thanks again Jenny for sending me this one.

HITTY Her first hundred years by Rachel Field

 HITTY Her first hundred years cover

I was very surprised to receive a copy of HITTY Her first hundred years by Rachel Field as an unexpected gift from Wilhelmina an online friend from the D.E. Stevenson website. I must admit I had never even heard of the book but it was a very enjoyable comfort read, perfect for these pandemic times. The book was first published in 1929, is illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop and it won the John Newbery Medal.

Hitty is a wee wooden doll with peg joints, made out of a piece of mountain ash – or rowan as we call it in Scotland – a kind of wood which is magical as it keeps witches away, so she feels special, she’s only six and a half inches tall. It begins with Hitty sitting in an antique shop with a cat for company and she goes through her past life recounting the many adventures that she’s had along the way, and there are many. It seems that some of her little owners weren’t all that careful with her. She begins her family life with the Prebles of Maine where she’s given to seven year old Phoebe, it’s a very happy home but the sea-faring father needs a cook before he can take his ship to sea again and his wife has to step up and do the job, which means that the children go to sea too, including Hitty.

She’s shipwrecked, abducted by crows, stuffed down the back of a sofa, falls out of a car – you name it and it happened to Hitty – or just about. Almost every adventure ends up in a change of family for her where she experiences spoiled wealthy children and poor families, she goes up and down in society and also goes in and out of fashion. This is an entertaining memoir which also follows the changes in society over 100 years.

Having been ‘born’ in 1829 Hitty’s 200th anniversary is coming up fairly soon, I’m wondering if anyone is going to take up the baton and write about the years from 1930 to 2030. I do hope so!

Thanks for sending me this one Wilhelmina.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by e.l. konigsburg

 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler cover

This book was first published in 1967 and it won the Newbery Medal. I was lucky enough to be given it by Jennifer and until I received I hadn’t even heard of the book but it was just perfect reading for these strange and unsettling times.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg begins in a suburn of New York City where Claudia, the eldest of four children is thoroughly fed up with things as they are. She has three younger brothers who never have to do any chores around their home, not that all her work is appreciated, in fact they try to make her life even more difficult.

Claudia decides that the time has come for her to run away, the only problem is that she has very little money, she can’t save her pocket money as she must have her hot fudge sundae treat every week. Her plan will only work if she can persuade her brother Jamie to go with her as he is a tightwad and consequently has quite a stash of money saved.

She doesn’t want to stay away from home too long, just long enough to make her parents worry and pay her more attention in the future. She’s not keen on roughing it so plans to stay somewhere where they can be fairly comfortable and she chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Claudia and Jamie manage to dodge the museum guards for days and they are able to wander around the museum and sleep in a 16th century four poster bed. Claudia has it all worked out, they bathe in a fountain and manage to eke out their money and even wash their clothes at a launderette. Then Claudia becomes obsessed by a new exhibit of a statue of an angel – is it by Michelangelo or not?

This is a lovely book and I so empathised with Claudia’s situation at home, a common one for girls of my and Claudia’s age back in 1967. Although this is a lovely light read it also shows how the siblings become aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and they learned to appreciate each other more.