Title: The Tower By the Sea
Author: Meindert DeJong
Major Themes: Holland, Cats, Magpie, Babies, Superstition, Witches, Europe
Synopsis: Just because an old woman has a magpie and a cat that get along with each other, does that make her a witch?
Several of my boys were away for a weekend not long ago, and I wanted a read-aloud for the younger ones, who were at home, that the others weren’t listening to. I mulled over the various options we had, and remembered seeing books by Meindert DeJong on the online library I use. When I pulled up the books by him, The Tower By the Sea caught my eye. I had never read it, but it sounded interesting. Then, when we started reading it and it was talking about superstitions I wondered if it was worth reading. Then, I recognized part of the story; parts of it had been taken from the book and arranged into a short story for a literature textbook I have! I never dreamed that story was part of a longer book.
The story revolves around a wise old woman who lives beside the graveyard of a tiny village on the edge of the sea in Holland. She rescues a baby magpie, and then a kitten with an “evil eye”, saying, “All God’s creatures have the right to live.” We loved the part of the story about how she trained the cat and the magpie to get along with each other!
As the cat and the magpie grew up and began exploring the wider world, the villagers learned about them. Because they were unusual, they were obviously a witch’s animals—so the wise old woman must be a witch! Then, when the children of the village all suddenly got sick, that proved it. Of course, the old woman had put a spell on them and they would all die.
There were a couple of times, as I read this book, that I stopped and flipped ahead a few pages to see if I really wanted to continue reading. In the end, I appreciated the entire story. It was especially timely with what is happening in the world around us right now. People are panicking for fear of COVID-19, and doing irrational things. The Tower By the Sea shows what fear can make people do. It’s a warning to all of us. Even though there were parts of the book that had me questioning its value, I’m glad we read it.
WARNING: All through the book, the “old crones” of the village talk about the old woman as a witch, and at one point they get so worked up that they are on the point of kindling a fire to burn her at the stake.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12