Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Elizabeth George Speare

The Awesome Woman of the Day for Wednesday, October 17, 2012, is Elizabeth George Speare (November 21, 1908 – November 15, 1994), U.S.A., award-winning author of children’s historical fiction.

I can still remember the first time I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond, probably Speare’s best-known work. Kit Tyler was perhaps the most dynamic female character I had ever encountered at the ripe old age of 9, unless you count the capitulation of Jo March from single career woman to wife and mother (but that’s a different awesome woman for a different day). Kit, to me, was unique in what I saw as a mix of good and bad traits and bents and how her journey reflected on the good and bad elements of her origins in Barbados and her home in puritanical Connecticut. She was privileged beyond belief (and don’t even get me started on the unwritten-about costs of that privilege), but her privilege came with a freedom of thought and movement that was completely incomprehensible to her pilgrim cousins.

As she accustoms herself to her new surroundings, she learns life skills – ninja skills, really, both in terms of functioning authentically within a restrictive environment and in finding inner peace even when the people around you are completely insane. And she becomes an authentic heroine. The book has its own ninja skills at work exploring both the benefits of cooperative society and the risks and burdens of religious oppression (especially sexism) without rocking the patriarchal boat so hard that fifth grade teachers couldn’t assign the book in class. Virtually all of the important characters are female, and all of the book’s important themes are viewed from female perspectives. And my 11 year old son, whose class has been assigned the book, hasn’t complained even once.

The book was written in 1958, so, of course, it ends with Kit finding her happily ever after with the right man. But he at least seems to appreciate her for who she is and to be okay with the concept of being her equal.

So, for that, I thank Ms. Speare.

For more information: