A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 1996 by Scholastic.
The Pilgrims, as they came to be known, traveled in a small cargo ship, the Mayflower, for two miserable months of bad food, unfit drinking water, vicious storms, and sheer boredom on a leaky old vessel that had never been intended for human cargo and lacked even the most basic amenities. Mem, one of the 34 children among the 102 people on board, tells the story in diary entries. Almost as bad as the journey was what the travelers found when it was over. Mem’s story is one of incredible courage in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, but it is also a story of real people with all their foibles, who refuse to give up no matter what happens. In the course of these inspiring events, Mem herself almost gives up, but a sense of humor and her hopes for the future carry her through the worst of them.
My new reading project (because I clearly like setting myself massive reading goals) is to read all the Dear America books in chronological order. Dear America (and its spinoffs) is a series that is near and dear to my heart. I own several of the books and I read them over and over again. I’m excited to see if my favorites back then are still my favorites now.
A Journey to the New World starts this chronological journey off, with Mem, the Pilgrim girl, stepping foot onto the New World and Plymouth. The book vastly understates the sort of trials the Pilgrims must have gone through in that first winter, a winter that killed off half of the population, but, of course, this book is targeted for children and so must gloss over things like that. Lasky does get across that people die (including people near and dear to Mem), so perhaps it’s not so understated. Things aren’t as chillingly tragic as in other Dear America books, though (I’m looking at you, Across This Wide and Lonesome Prairie), or perhaps that’s just the narrator’s fault.
Some of my favorite Dear America books really breathe life into the protagonists so they are not just a vehicle for getting across information about the time period; unfortunately, Mem is not particularly memorable (ha! “Remember” is not memorable…okay, I’ll stop). She does seem to be just a mouthpiece for telling the reader about the first year of the Pilgrims in America; there’s some personal aspects to the story but nothing deep enough to establish more than just a peripheral connection. Some parts of the book seem mechanical, which make the more heartfelt parts seem awkward and disjointed, creating an uneven pace for the entire book.
A Journey to the New World is definitely informational, which was, I believe, the initial point of the Dear America series in the first place, but it lacks heart and depth. Mem is not a particularly interesting protagonist, and the trials of the Pilgrims are slightly understated—though the dedication to depicting the relationship between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims is admirable. However, I do think that this book, though shallow, perhaps, to an adult, would be just the right sort of thing for a child.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Land ahoy!” The call from the crow’s nest cracked the dawn. Hummy’s and my eyes flew open…we all hurried out. Unable to believe the words, our eyes wide in the half-light of dawn. Several of us crowded along the rail. The sailors saw it first, the faint, dark line against the horizon…..But within minutes of searching the horizon with our eyes, Hummy and I began to see the same….’Twas not a wisp of dream but real. It had taken us all of 65 days but finally we are here. This be the New World and it doth fill my eyes for the first time.