Friday, October 02, 2009
Book Review: White Witch by Janet Graber
The White Witch
There just aren't enough good plague books for kids. Fortunately, Graber steps up to the plate, addressing a devastating point in history and confronting the belief system of the time.
In a small English village, Gwen has a reputation of being a witch because of her pale coloring and ability to commune with animals. While she doesn't seem to be albino, she has light hair and skin and the village people both respect and fear her.
Her father, a trader, brings news of the plague from London and warns the villagers that they must not allow the refugees fleeing the city to come down the river and dock with them. Believing that God will protect them and choosing to believe the illness a sign of retribution for sinfulness, they choose to ignore his warning.
Gwen's father knows they will blame her for the illness. He hides her in a secret room in the church, formerly used to hide riches, and leaves the village, promising to return. Time passes and refugees, rats, and ultimately the plague arrive. Gwen watches as people flee or die, with deaths outpacing the rate the bodies can be buried.
Silence falls on the village, and then one of the villagers returns from hiding in the woods, a young woman who knows where Gwen is hiding.
Gwen risks getting the plague herself to help her friend, even when she knows it means losing the boy she loves to that friend. But those aren't the only villagers around, and now Gwen faces a witchcraft trial.
While not making inappropriately light of the death and the superstitions that surrounded healing and people who were different, Graber presents an interesting glimpse of a time not often addressed in children's literature. A thoughtful read.