The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Recommended for: Ages 8 to Adult (or slightly younger as a read-aloud)
Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean island she left behind. In her relatives' stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely. The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat. But when Kit's friendship with the "witch" is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!
This is another one of those books that my mom read to my sisters and me over lunch when we were young. It also became a family read-aloud several years later. The only other book I can think of that did this is Anne of Green Gables. I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond dearly even as a young child. I can remember stamping my foot and loudly declaring, "She's not a witch." It, with the same author's The Bronze Bow and Esther Forbes's Johnny Tremain, remain among my top favorite historical fiction books. At the moment, I can't really think of any other books that make it that high on my favorite historical fiction list.
Don't be put off by the title. There is absolutely no witchcraft involved in the book. What I generally say is that it's basically a Salem Witch Trial type book except they're not in Salem. They're in Wethersfield, another New England coastal town.
Kit Tyler has to leave her home of Barbados to live with her Puritan relatives. Watching her try to fit in is both hard and entertaining. She really knows nothing of Puritan life. It is a disaster at the dame school that finally drives her to the meadow, where she meets Hannah Tupper, who everyone assumes is a witch simply because she is a Quaker, not a Puritan. Then she accidentally drags little Prudence Cruff into trouble, trouble which only Prudence herself, with the help of Nat Eaton, can get them out of.
I dearly love these characters and their relationships. Kit is so easy to relate to, she is stubborn and not the least bit Puritan, but she wants to help people, namely Prudence. Prudence is ill treated, called stupid by her overbearing mother when really she is extremely smart. Hannah Tupper is a delightful old lady, and no more a witch than you or I. And I love Nat. He is no more perfect than Kit, but he's a good man and quite a wonderful character. Yes, there is some romance, but it's in the perfect place, a subplot, clean and sweet, and nothing which would turn off young children. It just makes the story even more wonderful than it already is.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a rich story, full of history, characters, story, and brilliant writing. It is such an amazing book. A lot of my favorite books are Newberies, I'm realizing that the only favorites that aren't are ones that are ineligible, for instance, written by a British author, or a recent book by an indie author that is for an older audience and/or wouldn't have been entered. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is no exception. It deserves the Newbery it won. I cannot recommend it highly enough.