Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness (Author and Illustrator)

Published in 1992

Cheryl Harness' book Three Young Pilgrims is a work of historical fiction that portrays the story of three children, Bartholomew, Remember, and Mary Allerton, who sailed from Southampton, England to Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower during the 17th century. The story begins with the children standing on the deck of "a little boat" and setting sail for the New World and concludes with the celebration of the first Thanksgiving. The final pages are dedicated to three groups of people who were involved in the story: the Pilgrims who left England to escape religious persecution, the Strangers who joined the Pilgrims because the New World offered the opportunity for people to own land, and the Indians who interacted with the Pilgrims after they landed on the shores of Plymouth Rock. None of the pages in this book are numbered.

Harness explains the purpose of the book in her author's note:

"The purpose of this book is to tell part of the story of a family. The Allerton's adventures, during one year, between the autumns of 1620 and 1621, cannot be told apart from the larger story of a group of brave people who set out to make a new life in a land that was unknown to them.

The book is not meant to be a scholarly work on the Pilgrims. Much has been written in greater detail about their ways and wanderings. It is, instead, a storybook, an illustrated primer that will, perhaps, lead the reader to further study.

While researching this story I visited Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This living history museum strives to give an authentic simulation of how life was lived in the 1620s. It's a trip I would recommend to anyone who wants to discover more."

The illustrations in the book are filled with historical facts that are the result of Harness' extensive research. One page, in particular, shows a detailed view of how everyone on the ship lived above and below deck on the Mayflower; all the rooms are labeled. Maps are provided to show the route of their long, difficult journey to the New World. Although the journey was difficult, the Pilgrims believed the risk was worth taking because they wanted, more than anything, to live in a land free from religious persecution.

In a touching scene between the children and their father, Bartholomew ask[s], "Papa, are you happy we came to America?" Remember frowns at her brother because she doesn't want her father to be sad. The reader soon learns that their mother has died. 

After a time he say[s], "Your mother and I wanted to bring up our children where no king could tell us how to live and pray." He sigh[s], "We didn't know it would be so hard, but yes, I am happy. Mary wishes her "Mama were there," and "Papa's arms tighten around her."

The most amazing thing about this book is the historical information that is woven throughout the story of the three young Pilgrims. On one page, Harness provides a time-line that begins with Lief Ericson sailing to the New World in the year 1002 and ends with Captain Thomas Dermer coming to Capawack Island in 1620. On the sidebar of the same page, she lists other events taking place around the world at the time of the Pilgrims. Several examples include the plays of Shakespeare being published in England, Rembrandt painting in Holland, Louis XIII sitting on the throne in France, Opera being invented in Italy, the Ming dynasty of emperors beginning in China, and the first Romanov czars ruling Russia. I found the side notes fascinating, as well as enlightening.

This book would be great to read to younger children around Thanksgiving time, but it would also be valuable for young adults to read because of the historical information. It is fitting that Harness dedicates her book to the Pilgrims and the staff of Plimoth Plantation and acknowledges the life and writing of William Bradford.


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