If You Don't Know Much About Them, You Can Learn Fun Facts About the Pilgrims

Dec 2, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Fun and informative; great variety in presentation style; colorful cartoon illustrations

Cons:No bibliography or sources for further reading

The Bottom Line: A fun way for elementary age children to learn some interesting facts about the early settlers who came to be called Pilgrims.

Did you know...that 102 passengers sailed on board the Mayflower? That one child was born during the voyage and the parents decided to name him Oceanus? That 2 dogs and 25-30 sailors also sailed on the Mayflower? That the Pilgrims didn't call themselves pilgrims? That the Pilgrims landed at Cape Cod before they landed at Plymouth?  That one of the first things the Pilgrims did when the Mayflower landed was to wash their clothes? (Well, the women washed the clothes, the men stood guard over them...)

If you found any of those facts remotely interesting or somewhat new, then you will probably enjoy Kenneth C. Davis' Don't Know Much About the Pilgrims, my six year old daughter's favorite "thanksgiving" book this year.

Davis is the well-known author of a number of books using the "Don't Know Much About..." title (which he's trademarked). Apparently many of them are for adults, but he's also spun his take on fun history into books for children. Although I "don't know much" about how his approach differs when writing for the two age groups (since I've never read any of his books for adults) I must say that it's a fun and effective teaching method for elementary aged children.

That because children in the 6-10 age range are like little sponges, soaking up facts and figures. Kids at this age are terrific at memorizing and often enjoy it (states, capitals, animal facts, number facts, lists of kings) and love learning bits and pieces of information about topics that interest them. I was happy to come across this book now; it finally sparked my daughter's interest in the history surrounding the pilgrims and the "first thanksgiving," something she just didn't seem that interested in yet last year.

"True or False: All the Pilgrims' clothes were black and white, and stiff." *

Davis employs a number of creative ways to share the information he's researched. Narrative, bulleted lists, time lines, question and answer, sidebars with fun facts, and true or false statements combine with colorful cartoon illustrations by S.D. Schindler to make this an eye-catching and informative book for children. I thought my daughter might enjoy a few pages, but to my surprise she wanted to read pretty much the whole thing, and more than once. Certain sections captured her imagination and she wanted to go back to them.

That may be because Davis does a good job capturing the "kids-eye" view. Wherever possible, he focuses not just on the pilgrim's experience, but the experience of the children who were part of the pilgrim community. What children might have done and eaten while on the Mayflower (and how smelly it was!), what their schools were like in Plymouth, and what kinds of chores the kids were expected to do in their new settlement are a few places where he gives a child's perspective. Even when he provides lists, he makes them fun: he gives two lists of children's chores and asks young readers to decide which list probably belonged to girls and which ones to boys. But he then goes on to explain how some chores were done by both girls and boys, including stuffing mattresses with wool, straw or feathers, weeding gardens, digging for clams, and collecting kindling for the fire.

"Do you have any friends named 'Love' or 'Remember'?"

My daughter liked the sections that dealt with the language of the Pilgrims. She especially enjoyed the paragraph that discusses some of the interesting names the Pilgrims gave to their children!

Early on, Davis points out that a number of Puritans settled first in Holland, before deciding to go to the new world, so he gives some Dutch words and phrases (complete with pronunciation guides). But he also provides lists of English words then in use for every-day objects, like "poppet" for doll and "dally" for dawdle, and has fun delving into some early names of foods the Pilgrims grew and ate, such as "pompions" (pumpkins) and "whortleberries" (blueberries). In the section on food, there's also a recipe for  bannocks, a kind of bread the Pilgrims ate, basically a cornmeal pancake. We will likely try to make those soon!

Don't Know Much About the Pilgrims turned out to be a surprisingly fun and thorough resource for teaching my young daughter about the early settlers in Massachusetts. From the reasons they left England to the voyage itself, to their daily customs and habits, to stories of Native Americans who befriended them and finally to their first harvest festival (and how the celebration called Thanksgiving began to be officially observed in later years) the book is full of interesting information, effectively presented for curious elementary age children.  I think it would make a terrific addition to a home, school or classroom library. Although I knew at least a little about the Pilgrims before reading this book, I learned some things from it too.

My only complaint is that Davis doesn't share some of his research bibliography or a list of places where a child could read further on the topic. Still, Don't Know Much About Pilgrims got and kept my daughter's attention so well that I plan to look for some of the other many books in Davis' series for children.

~befus, 2008

Don't Know Much About the Pilgrims
by Kenneth C. Davis
illustrated by S.D. Schindler
HarperCollins, 2002
ISBN  0060286091

* The answer is false. Despite all those pictures of pilgrims in black and white clothes on your school bulletin board when you were a kid, the pilgrims enjoyed wearing a variety of colors. Most of the black and white clothes they had were Sunday best. And guess what? No buckles on their shoes and hats either!

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