Kids Writing Historical Fiction: Pilgrim Historical Fiction Models

My students are finishing their research and beginning to write their stories. At this point I like to refer them to other works of Pilgrim historical fiction, good and bad. Here are three that I find particularly useful:

Kathryn Lasky’s A Journey to a New World
I like this one very much. Lasky has done her research well and I love it when I read some excerpts that the kids recognize information from Mourt’s Relation. The only problem I have with it is that it is a Dear America book and there are kids (not mine) out there who think it is a real diary and that Remember Patience Whipple was an actual Mayflower passenger.

Ann Rinaldi’s The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce
I use this one with my students to show how important it is to really delve into research. You see, many who look into the Pilgrim story become intrigued when they learn that Governor Bradford’s first wife Dorothy died shortly after they arrived, evidently falling off the ship. Unfortunately, an 1869 journalist created out of thin air a story involving a love affair and her suicide, a story that now is carelessly banded about as fact when in fact it is completely bogus and unsupported by any primary source whatsoever. My students and I even checked with the Plimoth Plantation folks to be sure. It seems Rinaldi did not; she uses it in her story — no problem there as it is fiction —- but then in an end note she describe it as one of the fascinating pieces of historical information she discovered during her research. How could she not check into it enough to find out it was a hoax?

Carol Otis Hurst and Rebecca Otis’s A Killing in Plimoth Colony .
The historical information is accurate, but there is a running element of anachronism that keeps this book from succeeding. The characters speak in modern idiomatic language, just with thou’s and thee’s. Early on there is a scene where a little girl has a hurt bird she wants as a pet. John Billington helps the bird and the little girl comments after he leaves that she loves him. Pets were not the norm at that time, much less for children (something I’ve looked into because my students tend to want to put them in their stories), and the idea that a child would talk of “loving” an unrelated adult because he took care of her pet? That is modern usage, not 17th century.


Filed under Historical Fiction, History

6 responses to “Kids Writing Historical Fiction: Pilgrim Historical Fiction Models

  1. Being as I one of my (many) mini obsessions is Plimouth, I’m interested in any other titles (particularly good ones) you use. While it is too old for your students, I love Constance by Patricia Clapp


  2. Yes, I know Constance, but it is too old for them. I’ve got tons of picture books too. I’ve a chapter on this unit as well as a bibliography in my book, Far Away and Long Ago: Young Historians in the Classroom. Of course, I’ve continued to add to it since writing it (over a decade ago —wow!).

    Do you know Stink Alley by Jamie Gilson? It is a novel about the Pilgrims while in Leyden. Not bad, I thought; however, a colleague had a friend who is an expert on that part of the history look at it and evidently there are some flaws.


  3. KT Horning

    It doesn’t surprise me that many kids think the Kathryn Lasky book is a real diary, considering that the publisher does everything it can to make it look like a real diary, including leaving the author’s name off of the cover and concluding with an afterword that tells readers what became of the diarist. It takes a pretty sophisticated young reader to understand that these diaries are pure fiction.

    The Plimouth Plantation site has even had to include a disclaimer in their FAQs because so many kids visiting the museum ask about Remember Patience Whipple. A few years ago, I remember the Mayflower Society had a similar disclaimer, as so many kids were writing them to inform them that had left Remember Patience Whipple off the list of Mayflower passengers.


  4. KT Horning

    Sorry, I meant Plimoth!


  5. In 1620 Plimouth or Plimoth — wouldn’t have mattered as there was no standardized spelling then.

    The Dear America books do trip kids up. I remember a student of mine a few years ago being absolutely livid when I proved to him that the books were fiction. He wanted to write the publishers to scold them for tricking kids. I think he was madder about being tricked than anything else!

    The Plimoth folk hate the Lasky book (used to complain bitterly about it when we were there), but I think it is useful if you are having kids write historical fiction about the Pilgrims as I do. Her research is solid.


  6. Pingback: Biography. writers and their biography » Blog Archive » Kids Writing Historical Fiction: Pilgrim…

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