4 stars. I picked up Rosalyn Schanzer’s Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem after a visit to the Salem Witch Museum (interesting, despite being too much dramatic attraction and too little museum for my taste, but that’s another story). This slim, no-frills account factually narrates the 1692 witchcraft hysteria that led to the executions of 20 and the deaths of another 5 in prison. The tone is very straightforward, with no sensationalism whatsoever.
It’s sign of progress that so much of the legal system of the day feels foreign to us: the admissibility of spectral evidence, the fees that the accused had to pay for the “privilege” of being jailed, even if they were found not guilty, and the way the judge ordered a jury that delivered a non-guilty verdict to reconvene and deliberate again (they then returned a guilty verdict). Reading about these abuses of law made my skin crawl!
Schanzer masterfully lays out the events in appropriate detail for young readers, and she wisely lets the themes speak for themselves, especially about judicial corruption, the way property was seized from the accused, and how, in many cases, the accusers benefited from the plight of the accused.
The illustrations accompanying the text are absolutely perfect, done in a period style to convey the feel of black-and-white engravings, with occasional shots of red. Though fairly simply done, there is a depth and resonance to them that makes this book come to life.
A well-done example of how history should be written for young readers, with plenty that adult readers will find appealing as well.