The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem

By Rosalyn Schanzer
(National Geographic Children's Books, Hardcover, 9781426308697, 144pp.)

Publication Date: September 13, 2011

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Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor Book

2012 Notable Children's Books—ALSC

NCSS—Notable Social Studies Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies 2012

School Library Journal Best Books of 2011

SLJ’s 100 Magnificent Children’s Books of 2011

Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2011

In the little colonial town of Salem Village, Massachusetts, two girls began to twitch, mumble, and contort their bodies into strange shapes. The doctor tried every remedy, but nothing cured the young Puritans. He grimly announced the dire diagnosis: the girls were bewitched! And then the accusations began.
The riveting, true story of the victims, accused witches, crooked officials, and mass hysteria that turned a mysterious illness affecting two children into a witch hunt that took over a dozen people’s lives and ruined hundreds more unfolds in chilling detail in this young adult book by award-winning author and illustrator Rosalyn Schanzer.
With a powerful narrative, chilling primary source accounts, a design evoking the period, and stylized black-white-and-red scratchboard illustrations of young girls having wild fits in the courtroom, witches flying overhead, and the Devil and his servants terrorizing the Puritans, this book will rivet young readers with novelistic power.
Taught in middle and high schools around the U.S., the 17th-century saga remains hauntingly resonant as people struggle even today with the urgent need to find someone to blame for their misfortunes. 

In addition to the Sibert Honor, Witches! has been honored by the Society of Illustrators with their Original Art Award Gold Medal, has been named a Notable book by both the American Library Association and the National Council for the Social Studies, and was chosen one ofSchool Library Journal's 100 Magnificent Children's Books and one of Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Children's Books.

Q&A with the Rosalyn Schanzer, the award-winning author of "Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem"

Q: How did you get interested in the Salem Witch Trials?  

They were just too jaw-dropping to ignore. Who wouldn’t wonder why a four year old girl and three dogs were accused of being witches?  Why were most people who confessed that they had committed the crime of witchcraft set free while just about everyone who proclaimed their innocence was imprisoned?  Did a shadowy beast really spring up into the sky and split apart into the spirits of three different witches?  The more material I dug up about this incredible story, the more curious I became.

Q: You have written and illustrated lots of books about history’s greatest heroes and adventurers. How was it different for you to write about witches instead?
Funny you should ask.  I’ve always favored upbeat picture books about fascinating people I would love to meet; bold explorers, great escape artists, brilliant scientists, or powerful movers and shakers.  But this new book is dark in every possible way.  The entire story is about wickedness and superstition run amok. Even the artwork is mostly black. Would I like to meet the characters inside these pages? Only if I could be as invisible as the supposed spirits who were swooping through the air to torment their victims. 

Q: What was the most unusual thing you learned while writing this book?
Everything about Salem in 1692 was far beyond unusual.  The Puritans thought the devil and his witches lurked in every nook and cranny, just waiting to afflict innocent children with a dread disease.  Unearthly phantoms claimed that they were murdered when a woman stared at them with her evil “eye beams.”  Black hogs, gigantic dogs, and a winged creature with the head of a woman urged pious Puritans to sign the devil’s book.  How could such things have happened?

Q: How did you do research for "Witches!"? Did you get to visit Salem?
I did get to go to Salem and Danvers (formerly Salem Village), and I met with some highly knowledgeable folks who showed me the most genuine historic sites in the area.  I also pored over 38 of the most scholarly books and the most historic documents and trial transcripts I could lay my hands on.  There’s a lot of inaccurate material floating around about the witch trials, so it’s imperative to ferret out the truth as diligently as possible.

Q: Why is it important for kids to learn about true stories like this one?
As with all stories from history, we need to know what caused the worst disasters so that such things are less likely to happen again.

Q: What are kids going to love most about this book?
From the Brothers Grimm to today’s stories about vampires and werewolves, everyone has always loved scary stuff.  But the thing that makes this particular story so terrifying is that unlike the rest, everything about it is entirely TRUE.

About the Author

Rosalyn Schanzer is the award-winning author and illustrator of 16 books for young people, including How We Crossed the West which garnered starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, and George versus George: The American Revolution as Seen From Both Sides, an ALA Notable Book, SLJ Book of the Year, NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, and Orbis Pictus Recommended book. She was recently awarded the Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators for her work on Witches. Roz lives in Virginia with her husband, Steve, in a house surrounded by birds.

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