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Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of…
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Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem

by Rosalyn Schanzer

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This book is striking at first glance; the black-white-and-red scratchboard illustration on the cover presents the duality of the Salem Witch Trials, which pitted people against their communities by aligning them with the Devil. This book presents the compelling stories of the victims of accused witches, the accused witches, and the hysterical town residents that propelled the Salem Witch Trials to their infamous end. At the front of the book is a collection of portraits portraying a stylized face of each of the characters of the story, giving them personalities and providing contextual clues for readers who might have trouble remembering such an expansive cast. The most stunning feature, despite the humanistic and thrilling tale of the Salem Witch Trials, are the scratchboard illustrations found throughout the book. These illustrations are dramatic depictions of the themes that run throughout the book, portraying the division between community members, the various allusions to the Devil and contracts signed with him, and the violence and sadness of accusations that took peoples’ lives. The interplay between the primary source accounts and the stylistic illustrations creates a well-balanced story that conveys emotion and fact. Recommended for purchase. Ages 10 and up. ( )
  kornelas1 | Dec 4, 2014 |
Did you know that accused witches were searched for warts "that could be used as teats to feed their evil animal familiars?" Too bad that and many of the other tell-tale signs of witches and non-witches were totally ignored during the Salem witch trials.

In reading this, I realized just how little I really knew about the events in Salem. Schanzer gives us the blow by blow of what happened in Salem in this interesting read. Many of my questions went unanswered (what was fake and what was real? What were the motivations?) because the evidence and information simply does not exist. Schanzer briefly goes over a number of theories, which gave me a sense of what might have happened. (I'm dying to know!)

And the scratchboard illustrations are FANTASTIC. ( )
  EuronerdLibrarian | Oct 17, 2014 |
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 |
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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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