Saturday, May 11, 2002

The Mayflower Secret: Introducing the Pilgrims to Young People

The Mayflower Secret, a Trailblazer Series book, tells a story of 13-year-old Elizabeth Tilley and her experiences as she comes to New England on the Mayflower in 1620. Along the way, readers are introduced to Governor William Bradford as well as many interesting details about the early years of the Plymouth colony. For example, the Pilgrims did not call themselves by that name, but rather as "Brethren." Often the story refers to the group as "Separatists," but never Pilgrims.

The Pilgrim leaders, plus Captain Standish, Squanto and Samoset are all featured. In fact, the names of the characters -- with one exception noted in the book introduction -- all refer to actual people from the Mayflower: names such as Edward Winslow, the Brewsters, Governor Carver, and children including Humility and Henry Cooper. The characters also talk in the old-English, King James style language, for a more authentic feel. As depicted in the book, an actual Elizabeth Tilley became orphaned after her parents died that first winter; and she married John Howland when she was 16, in 1623.

During the voyage across the ocean, Elizabeth sees the unhappy Dorothy Bradford, William Bradford's wife, on deck late one night. The next day she learns that the woman is missing, presumed drowned -- and blames herself for not saying anything or trying to save Dorothy. How can she ever face Governor Bradford, with this terrible secret?

Most of the story is in fact the overall story of the Pilgrims, with minor attention to Elizabeth's secret. The girl's growing feelings for John Howland, and uncertainty over her place in the colony, add further detail to personalize the experience for young people. As a story that features relatively little action, and emphasis on a girl's feelings, The Mayflower Secret would likely appeal more to young girls than boys. Such readers, though, should enjoy learning about the early Pilgrims, in this informative "Trailblazer Series" book.