Friday, November 20, 2009

Adventures in Jamestown

Adventures in Jamestown by Nancy LeSourd is part of the "Liberty Letters" series where fictional letters between two girls reveal history as readers may not have known it before. In Jamestown, we witness 17th century colonial and British life through the friendship letters of Elizabeth (a young Englishwoman who greatly desires education, although she is not allowed it) and Abigail (who is seeking adventure in the New World with her parents).

But within months of arriving in America, Abigail's parents die; her mother starves because the Indians won't let the settlers out of Jamestown to seek food, and her father is killed with an arrow because he dares to sneak out of Jamestown in search of food for his family. Abigail, starving and mourning, wants nothing more than to go back to England and never see the New World - and the Indians, - again. Just when she thinks rescue has come and she can return to her friend Elizabeth, God tugs at her heart. Maybe she should stay in the New World a little longer, she thinks.

She begins helping Reverend Alexander Whitaker - who in turn has recently been sent the Indian princess Pocahontas, who's been kidnapped by the settlers in hopes of striking a deal with her father, the Chief of the local Indian tribe. Whitaker and the other settlers treat Pocahontas with great respect and immediately begin teaching her about English ways - and the English God. Abigail is the only one who seems to dislike Pocahontas. How can she be friends with the princess who was once known for helping the English, yet allowed Abigail's parents to die?

In the meantime, Elizabeth's sympathetic uncle begins feeding her natural love of knowledge. When Elizabeth's father finds out, he's furious, but eventually he agrees to a test. Elizabeth's uncle will pay for England's first orangery (a sort of green house for growing oranges) if Elizabeth will design it. If she fails, the men agree Elizabeth's lessons will discontinue. If she succeeds in this monumental task, her father agrees she will receive some schooling. After a few twists and turns, Elizabeth does succeed, and while she never goes to college, she later marries an Oxford man and makes sure her children - boys and girls - receive a good education.

Meanwhile, Pocahontas is slowly turning to the Lord. Abigail - despite her bitter heart - begins to admire the Indian princess. She learns there is never a place for bitterness or revenge in the heart of a Christian, and soon forgives both Pocahontas and her father. Not long after, Pocahontas is baptized and marries a Christian Englishman.

The back of the book includes historical notes and photographs of Jamestown reproduced, paintings of Pocahontas, pictures of the Globe theatre (which Elizabeth writes about), and more.
What I Like: Although I'm a history buff, I never knew much about Pocahontas' acceptance of the Lord. Yes, much of this book is fictional (because we don't know a lot of details), but LeSourd does an excellent job of showing how Pocahontas might have discarded her native gods and accepted Jesus Christ. The author also does a nice job of showing how many colonists could have developed hateful feelings toward the Indians, and how Abigail realizes this isn't what God desires of us. Themes of redemption and forgiveness abound in this book, and while this title isn't as hard-to-put-down as the author's Secrets of Civil War Spies, it's still a good read.
What I Dislike: Especially toward the end of the book, Elizabeth's letters nearly disappear and all we have are Abagail's notes. The book would be stronger if Elizabeth's story extended to the end of the book.
Overall Rating: Very Good.
Age Appeal: 9 -12.
Publishing Info: Zonderkidz, 2008; ISBN: 978-0310713920; softback, $7.99
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Special Info: Check out our other reviews of Nancy LeSaurd's books. For terrific historical background information, including a recipe, an article on manners of the era, information on Shakespeare, and more, visit the book series website.

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