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TITUBA by William Miller


by William Miller & illustrated by Leonard Jenkins

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-15-201897-2
Publisher: Harcourt

The intriguingly complicated story of Tituba and the Salem witch trials is presented for a young audience with some liberties taken with the facts that are actually known about her. Miller’s history as a poet comes through in his telling, especially during Tituba’s description of her homeland to the two girls in her care. She fondly recalls the beautiful birds that would greet her each morning on the way to the river, her gratitude to the water spirits when filling her jar and her ability to tell fortunes by tossing shells. After these revelations the girls have strange dreams and Tituba is accused of being a witch. Brought before a judge and persecuted because she is different, Tituba is told to “confess or die.” To avoid execution and to save herself, she tells the court what they want to hear. Sitting alone in jail, when all others have been sent home, she is distraught to the point of wanting to end it all. But her spirit is uplifted when moonlight washes over her, for she realizes that the moon shines on everyone equally. She’s released and sold to another family far away. When young slaves from her native island arrive, Tituba becomes their mentor, advising that “a master might own your body, but he can never own your spirit.” Unfortunately, most of this story is imagined. Very little is known about what happened to Tituba, as the author himself points out. And it is uncertain whether he even knows what she could have been thinking. While the intent is certainly a noble one, readers deserve to know when a story is fiction and when it is not. Jenkins’s art is interesting and often very powerful, although Tituba sometimes seems to be placed on top of the scene. It is unfortunate that it accompanies a flawed text. (Picture book. 6-9)