"The Witch of Blackbird Pond" Book Discussion and Themed Blueberry Corncakes Recipe
is a Newberry Medal Award winner about a 17th century girl from Barbados, forced to move to Connecticut with her Aunt and Uncle. Though she has two female cousins close to her age, Kit finds the homespun, laborious Puritan life completely frigid compared to her childhood of warm beaches, endless books, and careless relaxation. In New England, surrounded by those who are reluctant to defer to a King across the ocean, Kit finds a rare, odd friendship with an elderly Quaker woman who lives by a marshy pond, rumored to be a witch for not observing the standard Puritan practices. Forever scandalizing her family with her odd ways, and even the speechless, wealthy boy who could be her only way out of a mundane life of endless chores, Kit has to decide just how much some friendships mean to her, and what she’s willing to sacrifice to protect those she cares for. The Witch of Blackbird Pond
The Puritans on board the ship with Kit were shocked when she jumped into the water to save Prudence’s toy doll, and even more shocked at her statement that she learned “to swim as soon as I could walk.” Why was this? What type of clothing do you imagine Kit wore to swim in, as opposed to what clothing the Puritans typically wore? When did you learn to swim, and have you ever swum in each of those two contrasting climates?
Nat Eaton was very proud that the Dolphin had a good honest stink of horses” instead of the smell of slaves down in the cargo hold. Was it his Puritan upbringing that gave him this perspective, and Kit’s responsibility-free childhood with plenty of slaves in her employ that prevented her from ever thinking of how they arrived in Barbados? Who had the more common point of view, for their time period and location?
Plays by Shakespeare were being performed in England at this time, but in Puritan New England, to even see them, let alone play-act them, was scandalous. Should Kit have known at John’s reaction to her reading plays, how much more of a negative reaction she would have to the children acting one out, even though it was with the Bible? Why did that make it so much worse in the schoolmaster’s eyes? Why do many churches now accept acting out Bible stories as a way of teaching children, when the Puritans despised it?
What was it in Mercy’s smile that “had reached across the gulf so suddenly” that Kit wanted her to know her nickname and call her by it? Is this why Matthew’s one weakness is intense compassion toward her, or might there be a few other reason as well? Are Mercy’s traits something that can be seen in a person’s face, and if so, are they always present, or does it depend on a person’s mood? Why does Mercy treat Katherine so differently than her sister Judith does?
Kit lacked many skills that her cousins had, and didn’t realize, coming to America, what a tremendous load of chores there were to be done. Why was it so difficult for her to learn? Would it be hard for us, now? What were some of the things she had to do by hand, and why do things that way, since she hadn’t had to in Barbados, or wouldn’t in England either? How are those chores different from ours today? What are some of the benefits of labor like that, which we miss out on?
Why is it so important to Gershom Bulkeley that Kit’s “grandfather was knighted for loyalty” and that she is a “loyal subject also”? How did Matthew feel about those facts, and why is there such contention between the two men? What was Matthew’s point of view about “loyalty” and when to keep it, and when it needed to be revoked?
The Puritan way (and purpose, considering the age) for dating is very different from Modern dating. What are some of those differences? Why would those rules be in place, and why might they consider marrying at such a young age? If modern technology were removed, would today’s couples have enough to talk about to fill hours of time, even with someone they greatly liked? What things did people talk about in Kit’s time? Why was it so difficult for her to find topics to speak to William about? Were there any things she could have mentioned to him, but chose not to? Why? Was there anyone else to whom she could have said them?
Why did John Holbrook follow after his teacher’s thinking so blindly at first? What made him develop his own opinions later? Did any of it have to do with the Judith/Mercy conundrum? Do you think this would make him a better preacher than he would have been at the beginning of the book?
Kit finally found peace from her busy, hard life in the Meadows. “From that first moment...the Meadows claimed her and made her their own.” Why did they do this to her, and not anyone else in her family? What makes some people run to a person’s home, and others to nature? What other places do people go to find peace or comfort, and what makes them choose those? Have you ever had a place where you could go like this, and if so, where and why did you choose it?
Rachel and Matthew don’t approve of Hannah Tupper because she is a Quaker, though Rachel cannot tell why, except to say that “Quakers are queer stubborn people. They don’t believe in the Sacraments.” What are those, and why are they so important to the Puritans? How is it that, though the Puritans left England for America to escape religious persecution, they could do that very thing to someone who believed differently than them? Doesn’t that type of exclusion go against the Bible that they believe in? What makes people do such things, and how can we avoid being religiously prejudiced or unkind toward other people?
Teaching the children at the dame school was a simple task for Mercy, one she completed “with love and skill.” What were some of her other strengths-not just the physical tasks, but also her abilities when it came to her parents and sister? What made her so strong, though she appeared weak?
Lying on hannah’s freshly thatched roof in the sun next to Nat, Kit felt “as though nothing mattered except just to be alive right at this moment.” Was this because of the work she had just done, and what made it so different from what she did all day at her uncle’s home? Was it also because of Nat, or Hannah, or the sun and nature by which she was surrounded, or even the different perspective, being up on a roof? What makes us feel this way at certain moments, and what can we do to hold on to them? Have you ever had any?
Why couldn’t John, or Kit, for that matter, tell Rachel and Matthew that the person John truly wanted to marry was Mercy, not Judith? Why did Mercy also hold her tongue? Would John and Judith ever have made a good match? Could Kit and William have ever grown to love or understand each other? How did this incident show even more what a strong person Mercy truly was?
William, who had been more a supporter of England and governor andros, suddenly “came over to father’s [Matthew’s] way of thinking...when he had to pay such high taxes on his land.” Why? What effect does paying taxes have on what a person thinks about a government, that he might even change his beliefs or begin to suddenly care about government policy? Why did they have taxes, if their ruler didn’t even live in the same country as they did? What good things can taxes accomplish for a nation?
The Jack-O-Lanterns left in the windowsills of William Ashby’s new home he was building, was more than just a prank to the Puritans. Uncle Matthew called it an “outrageous piece of blasphemy.” Why would he be so outraged about them, and what is their origin? Why did Kit see it as a harmless prank that only made her giggle?
Why did John decide to leave and be a medical soldier, when he could have stayed home and learned more about medicine? Why did Judith consider him to be selfish because of this action? Was it him or her that was truly being selfish? Why did Mercy think Judith should have been proud of him? In the end, did it turn out to be a wise decision for him, and lead to more things he hoped for? How?
Why, when Hannah was just about to escape onto the boat, did she suddenly become adamant about having her cat? Why did Nat concede to find it for her? What one item do you think Kit might have rescued from her home in Barbados, at the beginning of the book, if she could only have one? What about at the end of the book, what one thing might she have saved from her home? What would you have taken from her home, or your home, if you could only save one thing?
After Hannah was gone, Kit had a “strange feeling of emptiness, the haunting regert that a secret and lovely thing was gone forever.” Was she right? Was it only one thing that was gone, and how was it replaced? Do you think she had that feeling when leaving Barbados, and if not, why? Have you ever known that feeling, and when?
Kit was amazed at the beauty, quiet, and especially coldness of her first encounter with snow. Why did she only like it at first, then suddenly no longer wish to spend winters in New England? What makes some people love the snow, and others despise it-do first impressions play a role?
- Why did it take Kit so long to realize how Nat felt about her? When did you realize it? Why was he a better match for her than William? Why was it perfect that Hannah and Nat’s grandmother and Kit would all live and garden together in the summertime?
This recipe was chosen to represent Hannah Tupper, because it is part of “Hannah’s magic cure for every ill... blueberry cake and a kitten.” Hannah Tupper, much like the Wood family, used cornmeal to make most of their dishes, so this recipe is made with the same, instead of just using all-purpose flour.
Blueberry Corn Cakes
Ingredients for Blueberry Corn Cakes:
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups self-rising yellow cornmeal mix
- 2 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top, if desired
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ½ sticks butter, softened
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup half and half
- 24 oz fresh blueberries, divided into 16 oz and 8 oz
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a regular-sized muffin pan.
- Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. In a stand mixer, mix butter on high for 2 minutes with the whisk attachment. Then slow the speed to medium and add eggs, one at a time, stopping halfway through to scrape down the insides of the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Add the vanilla and mix on medium until fully incorporated.
- Then add dry mix, alternating in thirds with the half and half. Again, stop the whisk half-way through and scrape down sides with a rubber spatula.
- When both dry and liquid are fully incorporated, remove the bowl from the mixer, and add the 16 ounces of fresh blueberries. Mix them in by folding gently with the rubber spatula, starting at the edges of the bowl, and swirling from the bottom towards the middle and up, until blueberries are evenly distributed through the batter. Make sure to use a gentle motion, or your blueberries will burst before baking.
- Bake at 350 for 20-25 mins on the lower-middle oven rack, until edges are golden brown, and an inserted toothpick comes out cleanly or with only crumbs, and not any raw batter. This recipe should make 2 batches of a dozen each.
- Enjoy with cold butter melted over each cake, and garnish with another fresh blueberry or two and a little sprinkle of sugar, since you don’t have to worry about saving it up for Reverend Gershom Bulkeley.
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The Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell is another story of a girl’s lonely survival, but on an abandoned island with only a pet and a sibling for company.
The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip is about real magic and witches, and a girl whose father was lost to the sea and in desiring to hex it, discovers a lonely sea monster who might have been a prince.
The Sign of the Beaver is a young adult story also by Elizabeth George Speare about a boy from Maine who must learn to survive in the wilderness. She also wrote The Bronze Bow and Calico Captive.
Anne Bradstreet’s poetry, William Shakespeare’s plays (specifically “The Tempest”), and books such as the Accidence are mentioned by characters in the book as literature they have read and enjoyed.
© 2015 Amanda Leitch