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  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond vs. Witch's Silver--Classic Children's Books continued
The Witch of Blackbird Pond vs. Witch's Silver--Classic Children's Books continued

One of the joys of having kids is having an excuse to reread classic children's books. (Not that I need an excuse. Frankly, I love children's books.) I just revisited The Witch of Blackbird Pondby Elizabeth George Speare, and it made me remember a book I love even more, Witch's Silver, by Dorothy Butters. They're near contemporaries--Speare's book was published in 1958, Butters' in 1959. Both have high-spirited heroines arriving on ships as the novels begin, but I'll take Butters' Arbella over Speare's Kit any day. At least, I know whom I'd rather have with me if I were ever lost in the wilderness. Here's what I remember: 

It is 1703 when our young heroine arrives in Boston to stay with Puritan relatives. Beyond the usual marriageable age, unusually tall and unusually tanned, Arbella spends her days with her eyes downcast while she makes her plans--to travel to the remote outpost where her family was murdered by Algonquin Indians, who took her captive and adopted her. 

Algonquin Village in what is now North Carolina, c. late 1600's. 

Arbella knows that no man will ever want her, remaining unaware of the attentions of one fine-upstanding Boston merchant and the frank admiration of his brother, an uncaring sailor with his own ship. But Arbella doesn't dream of husband and marriage. Her goal? To dig up her dead family's chest of silver, hurriedly buried before the Indians attacked. 


These Boston Puritans, thinks Arbella, speak loudly of God, but really value money. With her family's reclaimed hoard, she will be beholden to no one. Her white foster mother among the Algonquin, also missing life with the tribe, is now a ward of the Puritans. With funds, Arbella can buy her foster mother's freedom. Together, they will build a home and a life. 

Puritan children, raised as tiny adults, lives filled with prayer and fear of damnation

But William, Arbella's weak-lunged, terror-filled, religion-tormented young cousin follows her on her quest, fearing she is a witch bent on ill-deeds. To return him to his family is to give up Arbella's one chance at wealth and power. To bring him along, terrified and weak as he is, seems her only option. 


Gradually, she begins to pry away the religious terrors that imprison him, giving him strength and confidence through a purported magic red stone. 


This is Ann Hutchison on trial, 
but it might as well be Arbella. 

But war is about to break out again between the Puritans and the Native Americans. Arbella and her young cousin wind up caught in the middle. When her path again crosses with the two attractive Boston suitors, as well as with her one-time Algonquin brother, Arbella must choose--between the safety of one suitor and the adventure of the other, and most wrenchingly of all, between her silver--her freedom--and her cousin's life. 

There's a lame book-end front and back, about a wimpy poor 1950's girl who hates her silly first name (Arbella) and thinks she's not good enough for the wealthy boy who loves her, but any silliness there is overwhelmed by the 1700's Arbella's story. The lessons here are about self-reliance and interdependence, in a lovely mix. 

It's delicious, also, to remember that this novel was written by one Dorothy Butters, a shy, bookish young woman, married to someone who nearly engulfed her--


--until she divorced him and became best-selling author Dorothy Gilman, writing, among other things, the Mrs. Pollifax series, about a sixty-year-old widow ready to end her life until she offers up her services to the CIA and becomes the world's oldest, and most competent, and crazily-hatted spy.


Original book copy for Witch's Silver: 

"It was in puritanical Boston town of 1703 that Arbella Hewitt, once tribal sister to an Indian, set heads to wagging and tongues to clucking when with singlehearted zeal she set out into the north woods with a frail little boy cousin as her only companion and a worn red stone as a make-believe talisman. She was seeking, not confidence, for she had plenty of that, but a buried chest of heirloom silver that could give her freedom from her patronizing relatives."


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