Nathaniel 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.
While 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 was 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.