Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Overboard! The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, Or, John Howland's Good Fortune by P. J. Lynch

It was all because of the King that we had to leave England.

Our Elders decided we would take our chances in the New World.

In 1620, young John Howland bid his family farewell and cast his lot with the Puritans who elected to leave their homes to seek freedom from persecution by the Church of England for their Calvinist leanings. Still a teenager, John, called Jack, indentured himself to John Carver, boarding a small ship called the Mayflower, sailing secretly before dawn with the tide.

"We've sold all our possessions, John. There's no going back," said Elder William Brewster.

And once out upon the "Vast and Furious Ocean," young Jack encounters very bad luck indeed. He is called on deck to help repair a critical timber shivered by the wind, just as a great wave strikes the ship.

A huge wave hit and sent me flying over the side.

Sinking in the silence of the icy green water below the ship, John despairs of his life. Then he sees a rope trailing behind the Mayflower and he seems to hear his mother's voice.

"Wake up, John Howland," I heard.

Lord God, the rope was in my hand!

And John Howland's good fortune continues with a speedy recovery from near death in the sea. But the voyage itself seems ill-fated, arriving not in Virginia near earlier English settlers, but making landfall on a barren and forbidding shore.

"That ain't Virginia, son!" said seaman Bob Coppin. "That's Cape Cod. None of us will survive if we don't stay together!"

Stay together they do, and launching their small shallop, John and the seamen sail along the coast until they locate a small harbor where the weary travelers come ashore. But fate is not fortunate for most of them, and the little settlement of New Plymouth sees the majority of them die before the long winter ends. However, John Howland survives to see Samoset and then Squanto appear to help them raise their crops.  He helps build a common house and then dwellings for the families, working alongside the other indentured servants, including one young girl, Lizzie Tilley, who catches his eye.

And when his master, John Carver and his wife die within a month of each other, young John is left a substantial inheritance.

"Now I was left without a master. I was a free and equal man."

And when the good ship Fortune arrives to resupply the settlers, John longs to take it back to London, but when Lizzie Tilley declines to go with him, he watches the Fortune sail away without him, casting his lot with Lizzie and a new life in New Plymouth. P. J. Lynch's The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland's Good Fortune (Candlewick Press, 2015) retells the familiar story of the Plymouth colony as it has not been told before, through the written words and eyes of young Jack, perhaps the luckiest colonist in American history. For as Lynch's author's note tells us, Jack's good luck holds, as the ill-named Fortune falls upon French pirates, never to see the port of London, while John Howland becomes a prominent citizen in the colony, and he and Tilly and their ten children establish a family which now numbers millions of American descendants.

Lynch's simple but strong narration is paired with his stunningly cinematographic gouache paintings, which use various perspectives and vivid light and shadow to delineate the settlers and the Wamponoags, giving new life to the familiar story of the first Thanksgiving and Pilgrim Fathers in striking illustrations that middle readers will not soon forget. Says Kirkus in a starred review, "Based on historical fact, this feast of a book will captivate readers from its opening double-page spread. Sweeping and grand, this personal take on a familiar story is an engaging success."

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home