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Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of…

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem

by Rosalyn Schanzer

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As the title suggests, “Witches” documents an “absolutely true tale of disaster in Salem.” Beginning with the initial witchcraft accusations in 1692, the book tells the story of the supernatural-fueled hysteria that swept over Salem, MA and its surrounding areas, resulting in the executions of twenty people.

It’s hard to read the historical facts of the Salem Witch Trials and not feel infuriated. Conveniently, most of those convicted of practicing witchcraft were either social outcasts (ex: an Indian slave, a bedridden woman who no longer attended church, a beggar, the mother of a multi-racial son, etc.), or adversaries of powerful Puritan political or church leaders. As the story goes, what began as a few isolated accusations of witchcraft from several young girls became a regional witch hunt, which led to the imprisonment of over fifty people.

Once the actual witch trials began, virtually zero physical evidence was brought forth to prompt the sentencing of those accused. Rather, the court (which lacked a single judge formally trained in law) relied on “spectral evidence” from the accusers, or hearsay accounts of an invisible world. During the trial, attendees (mostly young girls) writhed on the floor and claimed that they were being tormented in real time by the “witch” on the stand. According to the documents in the book, the spectacle was said to be very convincing. Years later, it was reported by at least one of the girls that their actions were falsified. Also, on multiple occasions, attendees were seen smuggling pins into the courtroom, which they used to draw blood and blame the “witch” on the stand for.

In the end, despite the obviously corrupted trials, twenty people went to the gallows. Many of those who did not were bullied into confessing their guilt -- an act that caused them to lose their land and possessions and continue to suffer in prison.

The author ends the book with possible explanations of what fueled the events: disease, post-traumatic stress, lies, attention seeking, political corruption, financial corruption, or even the supernatural. While the book closes on a “we’ll never know” note, it is clear from the author’s writing that she views the event as an absolute tragedy.

I initially picked up “Witches” for two reasons, 1) because it was a Sibert Honor Book, and 2) I thought it might be an interesting companion piece to “The Scarlet Letter.” After reading the book, I do think it would align nicely with “The Scarlet Letter,” but also any discussion, lesson or unit (fictional, historical, or contemporary) that deals with the theme of injustice. The frustration I felt while reading this book is similar to one that I’ve felt many times before while reading literature, historical texts, and even the news (ex: To Kill A Mockingbird, The Civil Rights Movement, Trayvon Martin, etc.) It may be worthwhile to teach an entire unit on injustice and consider the ways in which events and stories relate. “Witches” could serve as an interesting examination of a particularly confusing time in American history. ( )
  JeffCarver | May 3, 2014 |
What a creepy account of the Salem Witch Trials! The conversational tone makes this book easy to read; it's almost as though the author is a storyteller. I'm sure this book would make a great audiobook. The story features just the right amount of creepiness for children to get a little scared by the subject matter, but not too much so. The author makes some speculations as to the accuser's motivations, but very clearly does not state these as fact. There are black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout the book that are lost in the ebook version. Notes at the end provide citations for each chapter, and there's also an index and bibliography. Children interested in scary stories may love this.
  Megs_Scrambled | Mar 16, 2014 |
Relates the shockingly true story of the Salem Witch Trials with theatrical intensity and building suspense. This book is gripping from the first page with its combination of macabre, period-style illustrations and engaging narration. Schanzer effectively places the readers amidst the madness of the witch craze in the colonies, but though the story is a dark one, she still manages to keep it light enough for younger readers by trying to rationalize and explain the seemingly erratic and illogical behavior that unfolds. A great way to introduce reluctant readers to history.
  Octokitten | Mar 16, 2014 |
Witches! is a non-fiction book that reads like fiction. It was factually interesting and the illustrations really helped to add an extra level of creepy to the book. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The gruesome stories and accusations that come to light in this book give kids a lot to mull over. I think this is a book that would be great to recommend to a high level middle reader who is beginning to exhaust the available selections in the children's section.

With that said, although School Library Journal rates this book for ages 10 and up, remember, this book is about the Salem witch trials. I opened this book thinking I knew what happened, but I think most people have a rather vague knowledge of what occurred during this point in history. Some pretty gruesome things took place and the book is through in describing the events, claims and even some name calling by the people participating.

A sensitive child might be upset by the illustrations and content. I know some ten year old's who would eat this up, and others who might be pretty freaked out. I think one of the positive aspects of this book is that it can spark conversations about deep topics. Adults who provide this book might want to prepare themselves for discussions about ethics, religion, peer pressure, history, science and social behavior.

This book received many honors including, Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor Book, 2012 Notable Children's Books—ALSC, NCSS—Notable Social Studies Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies 2012, School Library Journal Best Books of 2011, SLJ’s 100 Magnificent Children’s Books of 2011 and Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2011.
  bdemontigny | Feb 26, 2014 |
I liked this nonfiction book for two reasons. The language was very engaging and kept me interested throughout the whole book. Secondly, the facts that were presented in the book were accurate and the sources were shown in the back of the book. There was a glossary and an index, which is also helpful for new words or to find information about certain topics quickly. The main idea of this book was to provide information about the Salem witch trials in the late 1600s. ( )
  jdobso4 | Nov 26, 2013 |
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Tells the story of the victims, the accused witches, and the scheming officials that turned a mysterious illness into a witch hunt.

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