Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Salem Witch Trials: An Unsolved Mystery for History

The Salem Witch Trials: An Unsolved Mystery for History

Jane Yolen , Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple
Illustrator:  Roger Roth 
Nonfiction Picture Book  Series
For ages 7 to 10
Simon and Schuster, 1988   ISBN: 978-0689846205

It was a hard time for the people of Salem Village, Massachusetts. The winter was a long and cold one; the Indians were becoming more and more unpredictable. In the household of Reverend Samuel Parris his daughters and their cousin Abigail enjoyed listening to and talking about the stories of magic that the family slave, Tituba, related to them. Then in February Betty Parris, Abigail and some of their friends got sick and began to have convulsions. The doctor declared that the girls were "bewitched."

In their moments of calm the girls told the villagers that three women had bewitched them; Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and the Parris slave, Tituba.

What followed was a hunt for witches, with the "bewitched" girls being the ones who 'informed' on other witches and revealed their secrets. All in all more than one hundred and fourteen people, men, women and children, were arrested. It was only when the governor of Massachusetts intervened that the witch hunting hysteria was brought under control.

This fascinating account brings to life the way in which a situation can get out of hand and we are able to see how people in the past were ruled by superstitions and by their own ignorance of the world around them. At the end of the book the authors present a thought provoking selection of suggestions as to what may have been the causes for the behaviour of the girls of Salem village. Were they simply seeking attention or did they have something medically wrong with them? We may never know the answers to all the questions about this extraordinary event in history, but it is certainly fun and interesting to wonder and think about it.