Books for Young Pilgrims


As school begins (whether in the classroom or remotely) this is a good time to highlight some books that teach young Congregationalists about their Pilgrim heritage.

For elementary age children I would recommend a trilogy of books by Kate Waters illustrating what it was like for boys and girls in Plymouth in Pilgrim days. Published by Scholastic Press, the titles include Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl; Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy; and Tapenum’s Day: A Wanpanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times. These books were produced in cooperation with the Plimouth Plantation Living History Museum. The text is accompanied by photographs taken at the museum with reenactors dressed in period costumes.

With meticulous attention to historical accuracy, each book depicts the daily routine of a child living in Plymouth. We learn what their homes were like, what clothes they wore, what they ate, and what chores they did each day. We also see the role of religion in their lives. Sarah is learning Psalm 100 from the Psalm book. Samuel’s father gives a blessing before their breakfast, and the language and content of the prayer are faithful to what a Pilgrim father would have expressed.

One element which adds to the sense of authenticity is the language used. The books are written in the first person, with the child addressing us in the language of the period. Thus we have “cockerel” for rooster, “coney” for rabbit, and “dally” for wasting time. Sarah’s doll is a “poppet.” When Sarah is frustrated, she exclaims “Oh, marry!” Fortunately there is a glossary at the end. In Tapenum’s Day we learn words from the Wampanoag language. The English are wautaconuoag (“coat-men”).

A book I recommend for middle school age readers is Voyage to Freedom by David Gay. Published by Banner of Truth, it tells the story of the crossing of the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower told through the eyes of Justice and Prudence, a boy and girl who are part of the fictional Lovelace family. The book gives a vivid sense of the hardships of crowded and unsanitary conditions, and the danger and the fear experienced during storms that threatened to destroy the ship.

Although the family portrayed is fictional, the incidents related are historical. We learn of the abandonment of the Speedwell, the near drowning and rescue of John Howland, and the tormenting of the Pilgrims by a scornful and threatening sailor who is suddenly struck by a fatal illness. A dramatic moment happens when the Mayflower is saved from breaking up during a storm by the use of a jack for house construction which the Pilgrims “just happened” to have.

Throughout the book the faith of the Pilgrims comes through as the parents of Justice and Prudence show how to meet fearsome and discouraging circumstances with prayer and trust in God and how to respond to scorn and persecution.

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