Elizabeth George Speare

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At a Glance

Elizabeth George Speare is on the list of America’s one hundred most popular children’s authors, and she has won many awards, including two Newbery Medals, the most prestigious prize given to children’s literature. It would not be an exaggeration to say that almost every child in America will read one of her books before graduating from high school. Speare's stellar career as a writer, however, almost didn’t happen. Though she wrote a good deal as a child, she stopped for many years and focused her energy and attention on her family. Speare didn’t start writing commercially until she was in her forties and her children were in their early teens. Like her most famous work, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, many of her stories are set in New England and focus on young people who are at a critical turning point in their lives.

Facts and Trivia

  • Speare grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts. As a young child, she had a cousin who also loved to write. At family gatherings, they would read each other their latest stories. This practice continued throughout their college years.
  • Speare’s novel Calico Captive was inspired by a journal she found written by Susanna Johnson, dated 1807. The diary told the story of the Johnson family’s kidnapping by Indians.
  • In a famous acceptance speech for one of her Newbery Medals, she said, “I believe that all of us who are concerned with children are committed to the salvaging of love and honor and duty.”
  • Although Speare often wrote about colonial life in America, her novel The Bronze Bow takes place during the time of Jesus.
  • Speare died in 1994 of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 85.

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Biography

Elizabeth George Speare was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1908, and lived in New England her entire life. She had one brother and spent her childhood doing activities that essentially trained her to write The Witch of Blackbird Pond. With her family, she went hiking through the woods and meadows of New England, many of which have not changed substantially since colonial times. Speare was also exposed to the arts, particularly plays and concerts, and as a girl she was given the long hours to read freely that Kit remembers so fondly in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It is little surprise, then, that Speare started writing her own stories at age eight.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Smith College and a master’s degree in English from Boston University.  She taught high school for several years, and then in 1936, she married Alden Speare. The couple moved to Connecticut and had two children. While the early desire to write that had led her to fill notebooks with poems and stories resurfaced from time to time, Speare devoted these years to her family and didn’t start writing seriously until her children were in junior high school. When she did, she wrote about what she knew best—family—starting with articles about family outings and activities.

When she turned her hand to fiction, Speare combined this love for family with her knowledge of younger readers gained as both parent and teacher, her extensive travels around New England, and the historical research on her home region that she did for her own pleasure. Speare published her first novel, Calico Captive, in 1957. Like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Calico Captive is a historical novel written for younger readers, and it also explores the American colonial period through the eyes of a young female protagonist. The Witch of Blackbird Pond came out the following year, and it won the 1959 Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award for American literature written for children.

The Bronze Bow, Speare’s third book, was published in 1961. Another historical novel with a troubled youthful protagonist, this one set in the time of Jesus, The Bronze Bow also won a Newbery (in 1962). A later young adult historical novel, The Sign of the Beaver (1983), won numerous awards, including the Christopher Award (given to works that affirm the highest value of the human...

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