Three for Reading New England

4820Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower is the kind of book that makes a history-loving, slightly nerdy reader like me very happy because it’s chock full of details that you don’t learn about in high school or college. The book is obviously about the arrival of the first European settlers on the shores of New England. Not surprisingly, the Native Americans didn’t really wait with open arms for someone to share their corn and turkey with on Thanksgiving. But neither did they all automatically dislike the newcomers. For the first 50 years after the arrival of the Mayflower, the majority of the tribes lived peacefully alongside the pilgrims; in fact, both sides benefitted from and actively supported one another. It wasn’t until more and more people came to settle in the area and the original leaders, who generally liked and respected each other, died or returned to Europe that things went downhill. I thought the book was just the right mix of entertainment and information. I never knew that there was a difference between pilgrims and puritans or that the Massachusetts colonies came up with a treaty of mutual support that was based on ideas and ideals that are mirrored by the Declaration of Independence. I also learned a lot about the different Native American tribes of the Northeast. Overall, the book was very even-keeled, detailing both what was good and what was bad about the arrival of the pilgrims.  I would have loved to have a map to see where all the places are that are mentioned, but that would have been highly impractical, since I listened to the audiobook during my commute.

1076924While the first pilgrims had very specific ideas about their faith and worship, they had no great interest in spreading it. They accommodated others with different beliefs seemingly without much trouble. Things had changed dramatically by 1687, the year in which The Witch of Blackbird Pond is set. The Puritans had much stricter rules for “respectable and true believers” than the Pilgrims did, and so it’s no wonder that the arrival of Kit Tyler, with her colorful dresses and exuberant nature, is viewed with much suspicion. After growing up with her grandfather on Barbados, Kit has a hard time adjusting to the rigors and rules of the town, where she is constantly being observed and judged—never mind the frigid weather in Connecticut. Only the widow Hannah Tupper seems to understand her. But she has the suspicion of witchcraft hanging over her. Not good during this particular time in history! The book is classified as juvenile fiction at my library, and I thought it offered an age-appropriate introduction to life as a girl in 18th-century New England; the trials of growing up, especially when your beliefs are different from those of everyone around you; and learning to stand up for yourself. (Nancy has also reviewed this book.)

The Birds of Killingworth 730277was a find at the library sale. It’s based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and describes the attempt of a squire in Connecticut to rid the town of Killingworth of its birds, since they always steal from of his crops. Together with farmers and townsfolk, the squire resolves to kill all adult birds, leaving the young to starve to death. Only the squire’s daughter and the town’s teacher object to this plan, and together with the school children, they attempt to save the birds. With its whimsical illustrations and positive message, this tale of the unintended consequences of messing with nature has quickly become a favorite in our house.

Reading New England is hosted by Lori at The Emerald City Book Review.



  1. I’ve not read anything by Philbrik yet, but after seeing reviews from you and some other bloggers, he’s definitely made my list of nonfiction authors I should get to know 🙂

  2. Yes I would like to read the Philbrick book. I’ve picked it up once before. I take it the Pilgrims were (separatists) who came first to Plymouth and the Puritans (reformers) followed later at Mass Bay. Sounds like good info in the book. I remember in elementary school The Witch of Blackbird Pond transported me to those times. It’s a wonderful book as I recall.

  3. I’m happy to hear that you liked Mayflower – like In the Heart of the Sea, it sounds like a good mix of facts and storytelling (In the Heart of the Sea often read like a novel). And I love reading about people traveling to new places.
    The Witch of Blackbird Pond has been sitting on our shelves for years. Like, probably almost 20 years. The cover has not appealed to any of my kids, so I guess I’m just going to have to read it myself!

    • I remembered how much you liked In the Heart of the Sea; that’s why I picked up Mayflower (my library doesn’t have Heart of the Sea). And if it makes you feel any better… I couldn’t get my kids to read The Witch; the cover didn’t appeal to them either. But it made for a good, quick read for me.

  4. All three of these sound interesting, but the first is the one that appeals most to me. I’m always interested in the first waves of immigration into “new” countries – I think the same pattern of mutual acceptance seems to have happened in many places, and then as time goes on the incomers start to dominate. Perhaps that’s why there’s so much fear of mass immigration today.

    • I think you’d like Mayflower. I really liked how evenly Philbrick explained what happened and why it happened. It seemed very objective to me, which was refreshing considering how emotional the subject of mass immigration is at the moment. Most people on the Mayflower and the ships following her came for the same reason people move to other places today: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or just trying to make a better life.

  5. I really enjoyed The Mayflower and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I’ll have to check out that third book. I love colonial and American Revolution history and fiction. I’m on an Ann Rinaldi binge right now. I’ll have to check out other posts for this New England challenge 🙂

  6. I remember reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond in school (but had forgotten all about it until reading your post). This might be a good option for one of my twins, who is particularly interested in the Witch Trials right now. Thanks for the reminder!

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