Saturday, February 5, 2011
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare--PikiStrips
Summary: Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean islands she left behind. In her relatives’ stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely. The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat. But when Kit’s friendship with the “witch” is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft (Laurel-Leaf Books)!
PikiStrips was a very frustrating tool to use, and the only reason I persisted in finishing this comic strip was because I had already put so much effort into it that I needed to see a final product. The idea--"creating comic strips from your photos"--is appealing, but PikiStrips does not execute it well. First, do not use this tool in Internet Explorer. It is very finicky and does not save changes unless you constantly refresh the page. I recommend using Firefox or Chrome. Second, the tagline is an exaggeration: users can certainly upload their photos into PikiStrips, but the tools to alter them are so crude that is is impossible to manipulate photos into something that looks like a comic strip. The images used in The Witch of Blackbird Pond are free clip art images, not altered photos. Third, PikiStrips's speech bubble function is nearly impossible to control (notice that there no speech bubbles below), changing shapes, sizes, and inputted text at random. Bottom line: Unless you have infinite patience, use a different tool for your visual storytelling project.
Review: In a discussion of Newbery award-winning books and how the standards for children’s literature have evolved over the years (see, for example, the word “scrotum” on the first page of Susan Patron’s 2007 winner, The Higher Power of Lucky), a friend argued that The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare was nothing more than a sexist relic from the Fifties. Upon reading this book, however, I must disagree. Kit Tyler is a highly intelligent character, and she engages the audience immediately in the first chapter--in which she garners her first accusations of witchcraft by plunging into the frigid Atlantic to retrieve a child’s doll...and stays afloat.
While Kit does end up with the romantic interest (which is the reasoning behind my friend’s argument), she chooses to be with him because she loves him rather than because of the status and escape from hard labor that another marriage proposal (which she declines) could provide. This book is about women who make their own decisions and deal with the consequences. Speare examines and juxtaposes the traditional roles of women throughout their lifetimes by using the characters of Prudence, a child determined to be educated; Kit, a young woman determined to find freedom from society’s rules; and Hannah, an old woman determined to live according to her personal religious mores.
Younger readers may stumble over some of the political plotline, e.g. the royalists versus the freemen and the colonists’ fight to preserve their charter. Recommend The Witch of Blackbird Pond to readers who enjoyed the romance of Twilight but need a strong-willed, independent-thinking female protagonist. Grades 5-8.