• Happy birthday Marlo Thomas (Free to Be…You and Me) and Mary Jane Auch (Ashes of Roses).
  • It’s the birth date of Leo Politi (1908–1996) Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street; Song of the Swallows.
  • In 1783, two men in Paris make the first untethered hot air balloon flight. Read Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride by Marjorie Priceman.
  • To celebrate World Hello Day, say hello to ten people. It’s as simple as that!
  • It’s World Television Day, created by the United Nations General Assembly to acknowledge the role of television as a mode of sharing information.

On November 21, 1908, Elizabeth George Speare was born in Melrose, Massachusetts. After finishing degrees from Boston University, she taught in the Massachusetts schools, then married and moved to Connecticut. When her children entered junior high school, she began writing articles and eventually books for children.

One thing that distinguishes Speare from other writers is how few books she created—and how much acclaim they all received. Four novels—Calico Captive, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Bronze Bow, The Sign of the Beaver—and one work of nonfiction, Life in Colonial America, constitute her entire output. Yet for these five books, she won two Newbery Medals and one Newbery Honor, a record of excellence unsurpassed by others. Not only did Mrs. Speare never write a bad book—she never published a bad paragraph! Because her output was so selective, she could work, and rework, every sentence to get her prose exactly right.

She also found one of the great editors of children’s books, Mary Silva Cosgrave of Houghton Mifflin. After Mary received Speare’s unsolicited manuscript that was based on the diary of Susanna Johnson, she reviewed the entire diary and sent Speare comments. Amazed that an editor, who had not yet signed up a book, would take so much trouble, Speare began a happy partnership with Mary. Together they crafted Calico Captive, about Susanna’s sister Miriam, also taken captive with her sister.

Mary always maintained that The Witch of Blackbird Pond arrived on her desk letter perfect. She merely changed one comma to a semicolon. To create this book, Speare turned to her own town of Wethersfield, Connecticut. One day while walking with her husband Alden she felt the presence of a solitary young woman. Chosing 1687 as the year for the novel, the time of the Connecticut Charter, Speare drew on actual testimonies from local witchcraft trials. Kit Tyler, an orphan immigrant from the Barbadoes, arrives unexpectedly at the home of her aunt and uncle in the town. Although everything seems strange at first, Kit finds a friend in the reclusive Hannah Tupper, a Quaker who lives on Blackbird Pond; then the town turns on Hannah, branding her as a witch.

Although Newbery deliberations are kept secret, in the case of The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the committee broke precedent and stated that Speare’s gem had received a rare unanimous vote on the first ballot. This book, published during the McCarthy era, explored another period of time, Colonial Connecticut, and featured an innocent woman believed to be a witch. Although today readers don’t think of The Witch of Blackbird Pond as being linked to Communist blacklisting, those of its time period would not have missed Speare’s impassioned cry for justice.

I was fortunate to know and work with Elizabeth George Speare. Dignified, intelligent, soft-spoken but articulate, Speare was beloved not only by Mary Silva Cosgrave but by all those  in the publishing house. Speare’s career should encourage all writers; they don’t have to write hundreds of books to get a classic—they just have to write one great book.

Here’s a passage from The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare:

With a bound she was over the side and had set foot on America. She stook taking deep breaths of the salt, fish-tainted air, and looked about for someone to share her excitement. She was quite forgotten. A throng of men and boys on the wharf had nosily closed in on the three Eatons, and she could hear a busy catching up of the past months’ news. The other passnegers had hurried along the wharf to the dirt road beyond.


Originally posted November 21, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Award Winning, History, Newbery, Pioneer, Survival
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Witch of Blackbird Pond


  1. Sarah says:

    My daughter’s fourth grade class is reading this book right now and she really enjoys it! It’s so helpful to get the background knowledge on the author. Thanks so much!

  2. G. Perry says:

    When I saw today’s book review, I immediately began typing a comment, but then stopped, and read the review first. I was delighted when I read Anita’s comment about Speare’s writing because it fit my reaction to the book exactly.

    I clearly recall when I read this book some time ago, that I felt like an invisible character in the book. It had the feeling of almost being film-like in my mind, as if I were there. It read perfectly smoothly in my head and it was one of the books from Anita’s list that I decided to use as a mentor book for my own writing. (Another work like this, at least to me, was Sarah, Plain and Tall.

    Wonderful book. Lifetime keeper.

  3. Trisha says:

    I have read with my children all of Elizabeth George Speare’s books, and we have so inspired by them. Last year at a homeschool co-op class I taught we read and studied The Sign of the Beaver. The children couldn’t get enough of the book; they loved discussing it, and they all designed book covers for the book.

    We love historical fiction, and Speare has always been one of my children’s and my all time favorite authors.

    Thank you for the post. You are so lucky to have met and worked with Speare.

  4. Kate says:

    Lifetime keeper is so right! My mother brought this book home for me to read … can’t remember when exactly, perhaps early 1960’s. I always thought she brought it home for me the year it came out, but I just looked up the publication date, and I was only five that year. I reread the book every few years, and am amazed at much I, the reader, learn about the lives of women and young girls at the time.

  5. Kristin says:

    I must’ve read The Witch of Blackbird Pond 10-15 times when I was younger. It never got old.
    Today was my first time on your site and between this a Happy Birthday to Marlo Thomas, I’m a huge fan already.

  6. Anita says:

    Kristin: Nice to hear from you — and thanks for commenting on the site.

  7. Sarah Tuttle says:

    I read and re-read this book many, many times when I was younger. It was something of an obsession. I am so glad to hear the Newbury committee was just as much a fan as I am!

  8. Reyna Richards says:

    I love this book!!!! But another good book wrote by her is The sign of the beaver!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Tish Dersnah says:

    I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond and so did my daughter. She wrote a letter to Elizabeth George Speare and received back an autograph. She was so thrilled. And I’m thrilled to see this post on such a lovely writer.

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