Historical Fiction and the Classroom: History and Myth in Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond

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First published in 1958, Elizabeth George Speare's Newbery award-winning novel The Witch of Blackbird Pond remains an immensely popular teaching tool in U.S. social studies classrooms today. Speare's story—which describes the challenges an orphaned daughter of wealthy Barbadian planters faces when she begins life anew in the Puritan colony of Connecticut in 1687—continues to capture educators' attention because it emphasizes themes such as tolerance of difference, abhorrence of slavery, support of heterodoxy, and a commitment to liberty, justice, and freedom that bolster contemporary American values. But while literary critics have praised the book's historical accuracy, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, like all works of historical fiction, reinterprets the past. In reinterpreting the events of 1680s Connecticut, Speare reveals much about the McCarthy-era 1950s in which she wrote, and indeed, much about the issues and concerns capturing 21st-century educators' attention. As this article argues, both teachers and students would benefit from examining the ways in which history and myth interact in the novel, creating a rich commentary on the 17th-century past, the 1950s in which Speare wrote, and today's 21st-century present.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-218
JournalChildren's Literature in Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • historical fiction
  • history and myth
  • Elizabeth George Speare
  • witch hunts


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