Monday, November 21, 2011

Witches! Review

Book talk: In the winter of 1692 two girls began to twitch and choke and twist their bodies into odd configurations on the floor as snow piled high outside their home.  Their parents tried every remedy, but the symptoms prevailed.  When a doctor was finally called to examine them, his diagnosis was that the girls were bewitched.  The original cause of the girls’ symptoms remains unknown to this day.  What is known is that the girls’ strange behavior set off a case of witch-hunt fever that would turn neighbors against each other and result in the loss of innocent lives and ruin many others.    The Salem Witch Trials are an iconic chapter of American history and its name has been evoked in modern times to point out our folly when suspicions cause us to turn against each other.  But what really happened in Salem in 1692?  Will we ever be able to learn the lessons this dark period of history has to teach us, or will we be forever doomed to repeat it?

Rocks my socks: I thought I knew a lot about the Salem witch trials, but really most of what I knew came from watching too many performances of The Crucible.  This book takes the facts and presents them clearly and concisely.  It describes what happened without sensationalizing it or trying to use those events to serve modern ends.  Schanzer presents the questions the events pose and the various attempts to answer them at the end, but does not take any one side (other than the fact that they were no actual witches involved.)  Instead she takes the rather sensible path of proposing that it was probably a ‘perfect storm’ of many factors that caused it and that we will never know exactly what happened.  The last part of the book is devoted to summaries of what happened to those involved after the trials, which provided a nice perspective.  A bibliography and index are included at the back, which always makes me happy.   My favorite part of the book is the woodcut illustrations throughout.  They are in black and white with touches of red added later on the computer that really cause elements to pop.  There are many interesting images involved with the trails and this book is worth it for these illustrations alone. 

Rocks in my socks: My only complaint is that I wish the book was longer and had more detail.  I found all of the information presented fascinating and craved more. Schanzer quotes from the trial transcripts and other historical documents occasionally, but I wish she used more direct quotes.  She did note her souces in the end matter, however so interested readers can find the whole documents to read.

Every book its reader: Even though Schanzer doesn’t sensationalize the story or emphasize the violence, the story is inherently violent and this can’t be avoided.  I’d save it for fourth grade and up.  The spectacular illustrations and clear narration will entertain adults as well.

Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer

Buy it or check it out today!

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