I have steadily been going through a list of children’s book I should have read when I was little. There is no bigger regret to me than not having read these works when they would have meant so much to me. I have recently read the Weirdstone of Brisigamen by Alan Garner and enjoyed it very much. I had read The Owl Service as a child and loved it but when I reread it some years ago I was struck by how wacky it was – much stranger than the Weirdstone – but a wonderful story nonetheless.
I remember coming across The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare in the library in primary school. I could be wrong, but I think it had a cover with a pond with shack on the other side of it. I loved the supernatural and fantasy and I must have though that this book was going to be something like the Sword in the Stone, so when I opened it I must have been sorely disappointed there was no witch in sight. I must have read, at least the first chapter, because I clearly remember our heroine, orphan Kit from wealthy Barbados, being shocked that she had to stir a big pot over a fire all day to make soap when she is obliged to move in with her aunt and uncle in puritan New England. I think I was just completely floored by the fact that soap was made this way. Anyhow, when the novel appeared to just be about dreary old church-going Puritans, I read no further.
Oh, what a pity because this is a lovely book, with plucky Kit trying to retain her sense of fun and love of beauty in dull Wethersfield, and having to learn restraint and the true nature of friendship. I would have loved the ‘witch’ Hannah Tupper and her cat, and of course the full-of-life sea captain’s son, Nat who is scornful of Kit’s snobbery. Speare is never heavy-handed and the book has a lovely pace as it builds up to the climax where Kit’s free spirit becomes exceedingly dangerous. For a modern reader, the attitudes to Indians and slavery, while accurate for the 17th C setting, are a bit jarring.