My mother loves the story of the Pilgrims. I can remember from when I was little how every year at Thanksgiving time she would pull out her Pilgrim books and read them – the grown-up books to herself, and the storybooks to us. She still reads her favorite Pilgrim books every year at Thanksgiving, although she has ceased to read them out loud to us.
….If You Sailed On the Mayflower in 1620 is a charming addition to our ranks of Pilgrim books. It is also a unique one. Instead of telling the story as a narration from start to finish (like most books on the subject), it poses questions and then provides one to three page answers to the questions. Here are a few of my favorite Q&As.
What kind of ship was the Mayflower? The Mayflower was a sailing ship. The ship moved when wind filled the sails. And the Mayflower was a cargo ship. She was made to carry cargo – things like cloth and hats and barrels of wine. She was not made to carry people. But the Mayflower did bring one hundred and two people from England to make their home in the New World in the year 1620.
What would you eat and drink on the Mayflower? Day after day, you would eat the same kind of food. You would not like it the first day, and by the last day you would be sick and tired of it.
Most of the time you would eat salt horse and hardtack. That’s what the sailors called it. Salt horse was their name for salted beef or pork or fish. Hardtack was a hard, dry biscuit. There were dried peas and beans, cheese from Holland, and some butter.
To cook their food, the Pilgrims would have had to build charcoal fires in metal boxes called braziers. But most of the time the weather was so stormy that it was too dangerous to have a fire. So most of the time the Pilgrims ate cold food.
There were barrels of beer and barrels of water. But after standing in the barrels for a while, the water was not safe to drink. So everyone drank beer – even the children.
Would you have had any fun on the Mayflower? It might be fun to watch the sailors. And you could play with the dogs. There were at least two dogs on board. And there was a cat. Every ship had a cat to catch the rats.
There were plenty of books to read – if you liked grown-up books. One of the Pilgrim leaders, William Brewster, brought along many books. If you liked to sing, you would have fun singing. The Pilgrims sang psalms – religious songs – every day.
Did the Pilgrims have any medicine? No medicine could cure the terrible sickness. But the Pilgrims had plenty of medicine to cure aches and pains. Plants called herbs were the medicine of the Pilgrims. When spring came, the women planted herbs in their gardens.
Suppose you cut yourself. Your mother would make a medicine from the wild daisy. She would mix it with animal fat and smear it on your cut. Suppose you had a headache. Your mother would mix ground-up sage with fat and cornmeal. You would have to eat it, even if you hated the taste.
Rose leaves and the fruit of the rose, called rose hips, were said to be good for almost anything. Today we know that rose hips have the same vitamins oranges have.
Did people break the rules? The first year, only three people were arrested for breaking the rules.
The people of Plymouth had to take turns watching the town for dangers. One night it was John Billington’s turn to stay up all night. He was supposed to look out for fires or strange Indians. But he said he would not do it.
John Billington was arrested. The Governor told Billington what his punishment would be. His neck and his heels would be tied together. When Billington heard this, he said he would take his turn watching Plymouth, like everyone else. The Governor let Billington go free.
This book is not distinctly Christian in its outlook, but it does not seek to suppress the Christianity of the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims’ search for religious freedom, emphasis on religious observances, and thanksgiving to God are all treated fairly.
The only concern I have is with the portrayal of the Mayflower Compact. Ms. McGovern writes that, “It was the first set of laws in America that said the majority should rule.” However, the Mayflower Compact was actually a covenant whereby the signers bound themselves to “enacte, constitute, and frame such just & equall laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” [Drawn from pg. 72 of America’s Providential History by Beliles & McDowell]
Conclusion. I have found the …If You Were There series by Scholastic to be most educational (and the pictures most entertaining).
Review © 2012 Laura Verret