(Middle Grade writing level – realistic violence, otherwise no content concerns)
This story centers on the founding of Jamestown and the struggles the first colonists faced trying to establish the colony. The main character is Samuel Collier, a real figure who traveled to the first settlement as a boy. Not much is known of his actual story, so that part of the story is a fictional account that surrounds the history of Jamestown. This book was excellent. It is a model of how historical fiction should be written. It really made me see the history between the early colonizers and the Native Americans as a relationship between real humans, and not two-dimensional archetypes. The historical information is well researched and incorporated into the novel in a way that reads naturally.
This book could be utilized as a full class reading, as a text with a series of historical texts for literature circles, or I could even see a teacher reading sections of the book to the class each day. There’s a lot of history to investigate surrounding this text, and it could center as a basis for an inquiry unit also.
The only issue I have is not really an issue with the book at all. Rather, it was that this book told a story that has been told many times before. I do hope to read more stories about Native American life that doesn’t center around their interactions with English colonizers. I’d love to see more stories that are written independently of that interaction. Still, that is not a criticism of this book, but more of the publishing industry in general. (If you have a suggestion, please let me know, and I’ll add it to my list!)
There is a sequel to this book (Poison in the Colony: Jamestown 1622) that I will definitely check out soon.
From the publisher:
“Twelve-year-old Samuel Collier is a lowly commoner on the streets of London. So when he becomes the page of Captain John Smith and boards the Susan Constant, bound for the New World, he can’t believe his good fortune. He’s heard that gold washes ashore with every tide. But beginning with the stormy journey and his first contact with the native people, he realizes that the New World is nothing like he imagined. The lush Virginia shore where they establish the colony of James Town is both beautiful and forbidding, and it’s hard to know who’s a friend or foe. As he learns the language of the Algonquian Indians and observes Captain Smith’s wise diplomacy, Samuel begins to see that he can be whomever he wants to be in this new land.”