Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem
written and illustrated by Rosalyn Schanzer
2011 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
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Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
I remember this adage from my childhood. It came back to my mind after reading Witches. In January 1692, two young girls begin mysteriously twitching, contorting, and speaking nonsense. Living under the roof of Reverend Samuel Parris, these two girls did not improve in the coming days and no sensible prognosis is able to be made. Instead, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams are declared bewitched by a local doctor. What follows is a series of such wild lies, accusations, and sheer madness in the village of Salem that 20 people ended up losing their lives. Rosalyn Schanzer unravels this tragic tale with riveting storytelling and unforgettable illustrations.
Unlike the childhood adage, words can be quite powerful and devastating. Salem is certainly proof of this. Author Schanzer shows us how people can be whipped up into a frenzy without giving a care to evidence and reasonable thought. If you teach American history, Witches would be an excellent resource for information on the witch trials in Salem. An interesting comparison would be to contrast this event with the McCarthy era "Red Scare" of the mid 20th century. My preference would be to use this book with middle school or older students, but others may disagree.
Rosalyn Schanzer has written and illustrated what is sure to be one of the most talked about nonfiction titles of 2011. What happened in Salem was truly tragic as families were destroyed and innocent lives lost. It can be terribly frustrating reading for students who are used to happy endings and justice prevailing. A final aspect about Witches that was especially revealing for me was the role of money in this disaster. There were several conflicts between families in the village that were connected to land and/or money. This is a prevalent theme in history and one I urge students to consider. Probably not the main source of the accusations in Salem, but Schanzer's book makes me think of the saying from All The President's Men: "Follow the money."