Samuel Eaten is eager to begin the day; for the first time, he'll be allowed to help harvest the rye. "It is my beginning to be a man," he says. As he dresses as quickly as possible, we can see just how complicated this clothing is and why his stepmother must help him dress. Next, Samuel fetches some water and chats for a moment with his friend Sarah Morton, then he hurries off to check his snares. "Now that I am almost grown, I can help catch game for the table," he says. His snare hold no game today. Samuel then gathers firewood for his stepmother and washes up before breakfast. At the meal, his father says a long prayer, noting God's "unspeakable mercy" toward the family and asking that "our soules [sic] may earnestly long after the food of eternall [sic] life, through Jesus Christ out Lord and Savior."
Finally, Samuel, his father, and a neighbor head for the fields and the boy learns to gather and bind the rye while the men reap it. He soon finds it difficult work. He has blisters, his back aches, the straw makes him itchy, and he has a sunburn. But "tis but folly to spend time in bootless complaints," so he keeps quiet. Soon his stepmother comes with food. "Of a sudden I feel small and tis a struggle not to weep. But I mustn't let Father see." After eating, his stepmother soothes his blistered hands and asks if he really has strength to continue, or would he like to come home? Samuel, wanting to please his father and show how big he is, stays on. By evening, he can hardly move, but he stops by the beach with the men to gather mussels for the evening meal.
Samuel would normally then do school work, but his father is on watch that evening, so Samuel takes the evening off. He wonders how his father can do the watch when Samuel himself can barely stand from fatigue. Yet when his father asks if he feels he can continue to harvest, Samuel quickly answers, "Oh, surely!" Just before drifting off to sleep, Samuel prays that he will be able to keep up with the men, that his snare will catch food, and that God will protect them all.
The last few pages of the book include the lyrics and vocal line of a period song the men sing in the field, in addition to a few words about Plymouth; who Samuel Eaten really was; harvesting rye; how boys changed from "long clothes" to breeches at a certain age; and about the Wampanoag tribe that's mentioned briefly in this book. There is also a glossary.
What I Like: I love everything about this book. The photographs of real people truly bring the history to life, and the text, all written as if Samuel were speaking, is true to history without being difficult to read. We really feel for Samuel and his struggles, and have a deeper appreciation of how easy modern life is. I also love all the educational material in the back of the book - and the fact that God is portrayed as a matter of everyday life for the pilgrims.
What I Dislike: Nothing.
Publishing Info: Scholastic; 1996; ISBN: 978-0590480536; paperback, 40 pgs., $6.99.
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