My 4th graders culminate a year of immigration studies with a close look at the story of the Mayflower passengers, aka the Pilgrims. I began teaching the unit years ago and have enjoyed finding new material for the children every year. We have a great time reading primary sources like Mourt’s Relation and end with a visit to the wonderful recreation of both the ship and settlement, Plimoth Plantation. So I was curious when one of my students brought in Rush Limbaugh’s Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims for me to see. After all, I had heard that the author was a finalist for the Children’s Book Week Author of the Year Award due to the book’s high status on the best seller list (and this week was dubbed the winner). And so I wondered — was the book any good?
Sadly, I have to concur with both the Kirkus review and editor Vicky Smith’s closer look at it (and its sequel); the book is not good. The history offered is a fictional form of the Pilgrim story, the one most of us of a certain age grew up with and not unexpected given the author’s known conservative stance. But it is the writing itself that really makes it such a dreadful book; it is incredibly poor, cringe-inducing in spots. Unfortunately, it isn’t helped by the digital illustrations which are cartoony in the worst way. There are a few older-looking images scattered throughout with citations at the end; unfortunately, these are muddled without proper identification. The whole package simply looks and reads as something very unprofessional. The bottom line is that it would not be something I’d want to add to my curriculum, that is for sure.
And so, for those who may want to know of some alternatives here are some of the books I use in my teaching of this topic:
Connie and Peter Roop’s Pilgrim Voices: Our First Year in the New World. This is my favorite book to use with my class. The Roops have carefully combined the two main primary sources about the Pilgrims (Bradford’s journal and Mourt) to create an accessible and highly engaging book that is almost a primary source as they use only the original language. Add to that outstanding, carefully researched illustrations, and excellent back matter and you have a winning book. Please bring it back in print!
Kate Water’s Sarah Morton’s Day, Samuel Eaton’s Day, Tapenum’s Day, and others about the settlement are useful for my students who create imaginary characters who may have traveled on the Mayflower and write their stories. These books help them imagine their characters’ lives.
Lucille Recht Penner’s Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners nicely weaves in elements of both social and political history and ends with some yummy-looking recipes!
Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Mayflower and the Pilgrim’s New World which is a reworking of his adult title. This is really for older children than my 4th graders and is not flawless (there have been criticisms of the Native American aspects), but definitely is heads and tails above Limbaugh’s book for those looking for something for young people on this time in American history. If I were teaching older children and using this I’d be sure to have them read and discuss the criticism and the author’s response to them.
Kenneth C. Davis’s Don’t Know Much About the Pilgrims. Light, but nicely presented for a young audience.
Penny Colman’s Thanksgiving: The True Story focuses on the history behind our national holiday.
Cheryl Harness’s The Adventurous Life of Myles Standish and the Amazing-but-True Story of Plymouth Colony is a very nicely presented version of the Pilgrim story through the vantage point of the settlement’s militia leader.
Catherine O’Neil Grace’s 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving is a National Geographic title that provides a more nuanced view of this history than does Limbaugh.