Monday, October 28, 2013

Who Were the Accused Witches of Salem?

A year ago I was just finishing up a wonderful trip visiting Boston, Plymouth, Salem, and Cape Cod.  It was such a beautiful time to visit that part of the country, and we couldn't resist a night in Salem right before Halloween.  The town was quaint and friendly, and we toured Nathanial Hawthorne's home during the day and went on a ghost tour at night.  It was entertaining to say the least!  So I've been daydreaming back to the trip a lot over the last week, and now here I am with Who Were the Accused Witches of Salem? by Laura Hamilton Waxman (Lerner, 2012).  The book is intended for students between 6th and 8th grade, which I agree with.  The book may touch on subjects that would be scary for younger readers, but for tweens looking for some interesting tidbits of spooky history, this book could be just the ticket!  Waxman breaks the book up into six chapters detailing how the witch troubles began, including information about the background of Puritans, to the trials and the aftermath.  There are photographs, maps, and sketches, drawings, and writings from the time of the trials scattered throughout the pages, almost like a scrapbook.  My favorite part of the book is the last few pages, because there are some nice 'extras' that could be very useful for students doing a report or wanting to seek out more information.  The first example is an explanation of what a primary source is, followed by Ann Putnam's Declaration against Mary Easty.  I thought this was a nice way to explain a primary source.  Next, readers are invited to pretend to be reporters during the trials, and different questions are provided that they may want to have answered before they write their story.  After that, a detailed timeline is included.  Finally, there is a bibliography and suggestions for further reading and research.  One other thing I noticed about this book that I found interesting was a note to readers that many parts of the English language have changed since the time of the trials, so some spellings have been changed from the original way.  I like that this was pointed out, and could lead to a conversation or research about how language was different during the time of the trials than it is today, especially when using Twitter and texting! 

The Salem Witch Museum website has a section for kids with information about the trials, which is set up as a set up common questions.  When you click on a question, you're taken to a video of a child asking the question, then someone from the museum answering that question.  This could be a great tool to use in a classroom setting.

Discovery Education also provides good information about life in Salem, the trials, and the people behind the trials.  There is a teacher connection part of this page that has connections to standards, as well as ideas for teaching about the trials. 

I hope everyone has a spooktakular Halloween week!  We haven't carved pumpkins yet, so that's up on the agenda tomorrow night.  Here is a photo of one of the graveyards in Salem:


  1. Very interesting book selection, Bethany! I will have to check it out. It looks like it is part of a series of books published by Lerner called Six Questions of America History. I don't remember seeing this series advertised in any of the catalogs I've gotten at the school library. Did you get a chance to see any of the other books in the series? You gave this title a good review, so I'm assuming that the others are high quality as well. The fact that you mentioned that the illustrations are a mixture of photographs, maps, sketches, and drawings is significant to me. I prefer nonfiction (especially history) to have a variety of types of illustrations, particularly primary sources. It makes the history seem much more alive than just a series of drawings by the same illustrator throughout the book.

    1. Hi Andrea! I didn't see any other books in the series when I checked this one out, but I checked online and it looks like there are quite a few books in the series. Here is the link:

  2. I love when nonfiction books have the "extras" throughout the book or at the end. I often find myself looking at these multiple times throughout the reading process. It always seems as though I get a little something different out of them each time I look. The note about the English language changing so much really sparked by interest. I like to be able to add little bits of information or send students to explore other texts by sparking various interests. You never know what will grab the attention of your students. Great Job!!

    Jennifer L. Cornelius

  3. This looks like an interesting title, Bethany. This would be something to recommend to a kid who likes scary stories as well as a history buff. I really like that the "extras" include an explanation of a primary source. Very useful!

    Courtney Allison