Monday, December 18, 2006

Blood On The River

Blood On The River: James Town 1607 by Elisa Carbone.

The Plot: It's James Town in 1607. OK, OK, you want more? It's told by Samuel Collier (based on a real life person) is page to Captain John Smith; Sam relates the story of James Town, from the time the ships left England up till 1610.

The Good: Sam's reasons for leaving England make sense: he's an orphan so is unwilling (he's been made a page to Smith) but he also has no options or future in England and this journey gives him an opportunity for a future that is lacking in England.

This is a great mix of history and adventure; or should I say, a good retelling of history because it includes adventure and facts. Carbone captures the claustrophobia of being stuck between decks during the voyage; addresses the many problems of James Town (the fortune hunters, the class divisions); and also captures Sam's joy at seeing the Caribbean for the first time and his willingness to learn about the Powhatans and their language and ways.

Does this book offer balance? It's easy to just tell one side of the story, and Sam is obviously an English boy speaking from an English perspective; would it even be possible to tell two sides in this story? The author tries, by including Sam's extended stay in the Warraskoyack village and the time spent learning their language and culture. Carbone includes the things the English believed at the time (Indians were cannibals and savages), yet pointing out (in text and notes) that what the English believed wasn't the truth of the matter; she also points out that the English are themselves savage: they keep Smith in chains and almost hang him. Sam's stay in the village also refutes those erroneous beliefs.

That's a delicate thing for an author to do: some of the English believed things that were factually incorrect, but the person of the time would not know it. An author needs to transmit that the information was wrong; but cannot rewrite history to make the English believe the correct thing. Adults known (or should) that at the time the English were calling the Native Americans savage the English were hanging, drawing and quartering people and using the body parts as street decorations. When Sam is living in the streets in London, he mentions heads on poles on London Bridge.

I like that a real person is used to narrate, and Sam is a popular person to use. He's also featured in Surviving Jamestown and Sam Collier And the Founding of Jamestown. I think it's because he's a kid friendly age during the time period (about 12 to 15) and even though he died in 1622, that was a pretty good survival back then. Plus, Collier really did spend time in the Warraskoyack village and this allows the author to explore life outside of the settlement itself.

Carbone includes notes, links, including what is real, what is not.

Once again, please share in the comments other books you know about set during this time period; including any books scheduled to come out in 2007.

Links: Carbone has a great study guide including links. My review of a middle grade non fiction book about John Smith, John Smith Escapes Again! includes many links to historical information, including info on the upcoming 400 year Anniversary of James Town.

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