October is for Witches! And Another Banned Favorite

I love October! It’s my favorite month. It has the beginning of fall–leaves starting to turn, colder, wet weather, fires in the wood stove, warm soups, and most of all, Halloween! My favorite holiday.

You have no idea how much I love Halloween. Of course, the first Halloween costume I have vivid memory of is my kindergarten costume, where I dressed up as a witch. My mother, bless her heart, spent hours sewing me a black cape and dress. I had a witch hat. I had green face makeup, and blackened eyebrows, and reddened lips. And on the day of Halloween, when my mom got me all dressed up? I looked in the mirror and cried. “I’m UGLY!” I wanted desperately to change my costume to some kind of pretty princess, but my mother wouldn’t let me.

Of course now I’m glad, because those pictures of me in my witch costume are some of my favorites. I was, in fact, completely adorable.

So kids, I’ve decided that October is for witches! Which means that during the  month of October I’ll be reviewing Witchy books (and a few movies), and probably talking about other Halloweeny subjects as well.

Since it’s still banned books week, I’ll get the witchy party started with one of my all-time favorite books, banned or no.

I can’t remember exactly when I first read The Witch of Blackbird Pond, but I remember finding it strangely comforting, even though the events in the book were anything but. It was probably feeling like Kit Tyler was a sister in arms, so to speak–always somehow doing the wrong thing in spite of trying so hard to do the right thing. I like this book just as much now as I did when I was a kid. It still comforts me; I’m still not quite sure why.

From the back of the book:

Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for th efirst time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean islands 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.

The book won a Newbury medal in 1959, and is taught in many classrooms. It is, after all, a wonderful historical novel with plenty of details of life in the colonies, and it also explores any number of social issues in a way that makes the reader care about them.

It appears, however, that having the word “Witch” in  your title–or indeed, anywhere in your book, as J.K. Rowling can no doubt tell you–is a sure way to have your book challenged by paranoid people. There were challenges to this book as recently as 2002.

The funny twist here is that there are no witches in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. In fact the “witch” of the title is no witch at all, but an elderly, widowed Quaker woman living in a tiny house near the swamps. Because the puritans don’t understand her way of life, they fear her and call her a witch. This book isn’t about witchcraft; it’s about paranoia, superstition and fear of ideas that challenge one’s religious ideals. Think about that for a minute.

Further reading:

A mom talks about banned books (including The Witch of Blackbird Pond)

Wikipedia’s Witch of Blackbird Pond entry

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