The Book: Elizabeth George Speare, THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND. Yearling Newbery paperback reprint, 10th reprint, June 1996 (originally published 1958). Good condition; spine is creased, book is slightly cocked, pages already show considerable age-related darkening.
First read: 1973
Owned since: 1996 (this copy)
It might be time for me to buy another copy of this book. This one's already showing signs of age, probably because the cover advertises it at a SPECIAL LOW PRICE of $2.49, so the thing is probably made of newsprint with some corrosive acid-based ink. This is at least the fourth copy of the book I've owned. It might be the fifth. I'm not sure what happened to the earlier ones, but at least two of them were read to tatters, and one was officially a gift to my younger sisters so I had to leave it behind when I went to college.
My family moved from Fairfax, VA to Virginia Beach in late summer 1973. It was our fifth move in seven years. Dad was a young Naval officer, he went where they sent him and Mom took us kids wherever we needed to be.
I found this book on the shelves of the Bayside branch of the Virginia Beach public library, but don't remember whether someone recommended it to me, or whether I found it for myself. I suspect that I picked it up myself because I thought it would be about witches. I very much wanted a spell that would take me back to our old house and my old school, where I was Class Representative and teacher's pet and didn't need to worry about my clothes because we all wore uniforms.
That isn't what this book is about. It turned out to be even better, because it's about a young girl, Kit Tyler, who moves to a strange place (colonial Wethersfield, CT) where she doesn't fit in and nobody likes her. Her only friend is a Quaker widow, Hannah Tupper, who teaches Kit what she needs to know about her new life, but is then driven from her home by ignorant townsmen who think she's a witch. When Kit too is accused of witchcraft, she discovers that her new family loves and supports her after all.
I checked this book out from the library at least once a month for more than a year, and bought my own copy with birthday or Christmas money as soon as I could. At one point, I knew long stretches of it by heart, so could recite it to myself after Mom made me stop reading. (I never had a flashlight; I lay at the foot of my bed, where just enough light spilled in from the hallway to read by.) My first efforts at fiction writing were attempts to write my own sequel to the adventures of Kit and Nat, the young sailor who rescues her (now they call it fan fiction). Even now, I pull out the book like a security blanket on dark days.
It's funny; I didn't correlate Kit's situation to mine until just now, as I was writing. But it's obvious that this is the perfect book to give any young girl after a move to a strange new place. It was the right book at the right time for me, and I will always have a copy on my shelves.