My pick this week is Elizabeth George Speare’s Calico Captive. If that name sounds familiar, it’s for good reason. Speare was the two-time Newbery Award-winning author of The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Bronze Bow, and Newbery Honor book The Sign of the Beaver. She wrote wonderful historical fiction for younger readers, and though I love all of her works, Calico Captive became an early favorite.
Early one morning in the year 1754 the stillness of Charlestown, New Hampshire, was shattered by shrill war whoops and the terror of an Indian raid. Young Miriam Willard, on a day which had promised new happiness, found herself instead a captive on a forest trail, caught up in the ebb and flow of the French and Indian War.
It was a harrowing march north. Miriam could only force herself to the next stopping place, the next small portion of food, the next icy stream to be crossed. What waits at the end of the trail - besides an Indian gauntlet and a life of slavery?
This story was a huge favorite of mine when I was eleven or twelve. At that point I was gobbling up books at the rate of 3 or 4 a day, but anything that was good slowed me down a bit. I think I read this one twice in a row in a damp tent on a family camping trip, and then dreamed about it for a couple of weeks afterward.
It’s funny looking back now at the story. Back then I had an emotional connection to Miriam, but now I see changing attitudes toward history. I read this then as an impressionable girl. Now I read it with critical analysis. It’s still a great story, and the historical setting is (from what I can tell) pretty spot-on. The things that grate a bit on my sensibilities are the portrayals of Native Americans and the colonial French Canadians, and the treatment of religion. However, it’s a wonderful place to start learning about girls in American history and captive narratives, which were fairly popular in the late 18th century.
I’d recommend this to fans of classic American children’s literature, historical fiction, history (in general and of the pre-Revolutionary Period), and anyone willing to go on an adventure with a brave young character. Enjoy!