cover image Tituba


William Miller. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201897-9

Miller (Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree) offers a poetic, plaintive story about the Barbados-born slave who was accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials of 1692. After enduring the terrors of a voyage to Boston in the hold of a ship, Tituba greatly misses the island, where she told fortunes and communed with mice, macaws and the water spirits. But when she shares memories of her homeland with her master's daughter and niece, Elizabeth and Abigail, they have nightmares that lead to the accusations against Tituba. She originally denies the charges of witchcraft and is thrown into jail; told in court to ""Confess or die,"" Tituba finally concedes the charge but remains jailed for many months. Sold to another master, Tituba comforts five young slaves newly arrived from Barbados, telling them that ""A master might own your body, but he can never own your spirit.... Remember what your fathers and mothers told you about the spirit world."" While Miller's sympathetic rendering of Tituba is likely to strike a chord with readers, his failure to develop the actions of Elizabeth and Abigail leaves important questions unanswered (Why, for example, do the girls fall to the floor in the courtroom, ""writhing like snakes""?). Rendered in spray paint, acrylics and pastels, Jenkins's (Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly) illustrations are occasionally stiff, yet offer effective contrasts between shadow and light and between vivid and somber colors. He affectingly evokes the anguish and loneliness of the title character. Ages 6-9. (Oct.)