Q&A with the Rosalyn Schanzer, the award-winning author of "Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem"
Q: How did you get interested in the Salem Witch Trials?
They were just too jaw-dropping to ignore. Who wouldn’t wonder why a four year old girl and three dogs were accused of being witches? Why were most people who confessed that they had committed the crime of witchcraft set free while just about everyone who proclaimed their innocence was imprisoned? Did a shadowy beast really spring up into the sky and split apart into the spirits of three different witches? The more material I dug up about this incredible story, the more curious I became.
Q: You have written and illustrated lots of books about history’s greatest heroes and adventurers. How was it different for you to write about witches instead?
Funny you should ask. I’ve always favored upbeat picture books about fascinating people I would love to meet; bold explorers, great escape artists, brilliant scientists, or powerful movers and shakers. But this new book is dark in every possible way. The entire story is about wickedness and superstition run amok. Even the artwork is mostly black. Would I like to meet the characters inside these pages? Only if I could be as invisible as the supposed spirits who were swooping through the air to torment their victims.
Q: What was the most unusual thing you learned while writing this book?
Everything about Salem in 1692 was far beyond unusual. The Puritans thought the devil and his witches lurked in every nook and cranny, just waiting to afflict innocent children with a dread disease. Unearthly phantoms claimed that they were murdered when a woman stared at them with her evil “eye beams.” Black hogs, gigantic dogs, and a winged creature with the head of a woman urged pious Puritans to sign the devil’s book. How could such things have happened?
Q: How did you do research for "Witches!"? Did you get to visit Salem?
I did get to go to Salem and Danvers (formerly Salem Village), and I met with some highly knowledgeable folks who showed me the most genuine historic sites in the area. I also pored over 38 of the most scholarly books and the most historic documents and trial transcripts I could lay my hands on. There’s a lot of inaccurate material floating around about the witch trials, so it’s imperative to ferret out the truth as diligently as possible.
Q: Why is it important for kids to learn about true stories like this one?
As with all stories from history, we need to know what caused the worst disasters so that such things are less likely to happen again.
Q: What are kids going to love most about this book?
From the Brothers Grimm to today’s stories about vampires and werewolves, everyone has always loved scary stuff. But the thing that makes this particular story so terrifying is that unlike the rest, everything about it is entirely TRUE.