I Walk in Dread Discussion Guide
The witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts come to life in this story from the Dear America historical fiction series. Here, a book summary, activities, and questions to discuss while reading the book.
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
Imagine being twelve years old, with no parents, living alone with your older sister in Salem during the hysteria that surrounded the 1691 Salem Witch Trials. I Walk in Dread is Deliverance Trembley’s story of witnessing the witch trials.
By 1692, 140 men and women suspected of witchcraft were imprisoned in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of Essex. Worse, nineteen were hanged and one was pressed to death under rocks. Reason finally prevailed, but 300 years later we are still interested, intrigued, and horrified at what happened in Salem. Over the years facts and myths have been so intertwined that it is still a puzzle separating the two.
In her first book for the Dear America series, Lisa Rowe Fraustino tries to separate fact from fiction as she describes the trials through the eyes of her heroine Deliverance Trembley. Lisa Fraustino writes, “People who have read many novels about the Salem witch hunt will notice that Deliverance Trembley’s diary is different from the others. It does not recall old myths. Instead, it attempts to show the factual details about what happened in Salem Village documented by today’s best historians. However, that still leaves much to the imagination.”
I Walk in Dread will leave young readers grappling with questions just as historians studying this period continue to do. What caused the afflicted girls to act out the way they did? Did they want attention? Did they become so involved they began to believe they were tormented by witches? Why did the villagers believe the girls, but not the accused adults? What lessons can we learn from what happened in Salem?
It is 1691 in Salem Village. Twelve-year-old Deliverance (Liv) Trembley and her seventeen-year-old sister Remembrance (Mem) have come to live with their uncle after the death of their parents. Soon after their arrival, their uncle goes off to seek his fortune leaving the girls to run the farm with the strict instructions that they are to tell no one of his absence. The girls busy themselves tending the animals and trading eggs and apples. Liv writes in her diary, “We are well able to take care of ourselves; that is not the problem. The problem is the Villagers, who would not approve, and might condemn our uncle, and remove us from his care.” Liv and Mem are able to hide the fact that they are alone, though Liv worries that they might be punished for lying. She also is concerned that they might be cursed by offering shelter and food to a homeless woman, Sarah Goode, who is rumored to be a witch.
When Mem becomes ill many villagers come to the house bringing food and home remedies. When a small child asks of Mem, “When is she going to scream blasphemies?” both girls are shocked. They soon learn that the visitors believe Mem is afflicted, like two girls in the village who are “contorting their bodies into unnatural positions and uttering terrible sounds that mostly make no sense.” Liv, who has already worried over the cause of Mem’s illness, feels a “sense of doom.” She writes, “Something terrible is going to happen in Salem Village. I can feel it in my bones, as surely as the caterpillar can feel a long winter coming.”
Mem recovers, but the girls in the village do not. When the doctor is unable to find a physical cause for their affliction, he says “the Evil Hand” is on them. The villagers, looking for someone to blame, accuse Sarah Goode and two others of being witches and doing the Devil’s work. The women are arrested and brought before a public examination. Even though they declare their innocence, the majority of the villagers do not believe them. Soon, more girls become afflicted, and more people are accused, including Martha Corey, an intelligent and outspoken woman. Liv wonders, “Why does the crowd still choose to hear the voices of the girls instead of the voice of reason?”
Meanwhile, the landlord threatens to evict Liv and Mem if they cannot pay the rent on the farm. Since it appears that their uncle might never return, Liv writes of the trouble to their older brother Benjamin. He returns and Mem, who is being courted by Darcy Cooper from Haver’il, accepts his marriage proposal. The whole family plans to move. Liv joyously writes, “Darcy will arrive in the morning with the big wagon, and we will load it up and be gone from this place, not a moment too soon. Thank you, God. Thank you!”
Thinking About the Book
Where does Deliverance (Liv) get her diary?
Why is Liv angry with her father?
Liv and Mem are sisters. If you could choose to be friends with only one of them, which sister would you choose and why?
Describe the fortune telling incident that Mem and Susannah engaged in using a “venus glass.” Why was Liv so upset with them for making a venus glass?
In her 30th of January diary entry, Liv writes about an angry exchange between Goody Corey and Mem. When Mem called the Indians “Devils,” Goody Corey explained they were just men who had a different belief about what it means to own land. Reread that entry. What was Goody Corey trying to get Mem to understand?
What was “the affliction?” Who were the first afflicted girls, and how did they behave?
Why do you believe the villagers believed the afflicted girls over the denial of the accused women?
Do you think the girls acted afflicted to get attention and get out of doing chores?
What was Mem’s dowry when she married Darcy Cooper? Why is Deliverance Trembley’s story titled I Walk in Dread?
Liv is anxious to borrow and read a popular book of her time, The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. Part of Mrs. Rowlandson’s story is described by Liv in her January 20th entry. Find out more about this courageous woman’s experiences. What interesting facts do you learn about Mrs. Mary Rowlandson?
Many villagers visit Mem while she is ill, bringing her medicine and food. Someone brings her a pomander. Find out what it is and how to make one yourself.
Choose one of the following and explain its significance in Liv’s diary.
King Philip’s War
Liv’s diary contains many sayings? Choose one of the following and explain what you think it means:
Time cuts down all, Both great and small.
What the mind denies, the spirit feels.
Praise spoileth the child as surely as molasses rots the teeth.
A fire goes out if it gets no air.
In the historical note several books are mentioned: Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Ann Petry’s Tituba of Salem Village, and Patricia Clapp’s Witches’ Children. Read one of these books. How is this story of the witchcraft trials similar to I Walk in Dread? How is it different?
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.