As we might hope, our current author, Elizabeth George Speare, was an avid reader as a child. She was born and raised in Melrose, Massachusetts in the early decades of the 20th century (b. 1908). She spent her summers “devouring books” and spending quality time with the characters she met in those books, and making up her own stories along the way. She was writing those stories down by the time she was in high school.
Miss George attended Smith College and Boston University and taught high-school English in Massachusetts after she finished graduate school. She married Alden Speare in 1936 and moved to Connecticut. Son Alden, Jr., was born in 1939, and three years later his new sister Mary came along.
The Speares were the hardy, outdoor types and spent a good deal of time hiking, camping and skiing. And while her first published work was a magazine article about skiing with her kids, Ms. Speare reported that she didn’t have enough hours in her days for writing her own stories until her children reached their early teens. Still, before she published any novels, she had articles in Better Homes and Gardens, Woman’s Day and Parents.
She published her first book – Calico Captive – in 1957. Our current book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, came next, in 1959. This tale of a young girl who travels from sunny Barbados to Connecticut in 1687 – when someone with different ways of looking at things might be suspected of witchcraft – won a Newbery Medal.
Just a few years later in 1962, she followed up with a book that was also on Katie’s summer reading list (but not on the top 100 list), The Bronze Bow, set in first-century Judea at the time of Jesus (who makes an appearance in the story).
Speare evidently didn’t lose her touch over the years – in 1984, she won a Newbery Honor and the Chris O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction for The Sign of the Beaver, which features early settlers in Maine and relationships with the Native Americans there. This story, like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, includes a subplot of teaching someone to read – an irresistible theme for those of us who do things like read through the top 100 children’s novels.
With all of her admirable additions to historic fiction for children, it should be no surprise that Speare received an award named after the author of the first book we read from this list – Laura Ingalls Wilder – awarded for her distinguished and enduring contribution to children’s literature.
Elizabeth George Speare is recognized by literary critics as one of the best writers of historical fiction for children, and in addition to our own top 100 list, she is considered among the top 100 most popular children’s authors overall. As we could easily have predicted from Katie’s summer reading list, her work is considered mandatory reading in schools throughout the US. (I remember reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond when I was Katie’s age, come to think of it.) She died in 1994.
(Information from Children’s Literary Network and Wikipedia.)