An Interview With Ann Rinaldi about The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce
Author Ann Rinaldi discusses her story about a teenaged Pilgrim boy, part of the My Name Is America historical fiction series.
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D.: You said that when you started the research for The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce: A Pilgrim Boy, you "knew what the average American knows about the Pilgrims." What is the one thing you learned in your research that surprised you most?
Ann Rinaldi: Little things about the Pilgrims surprised me. For instance, the fact that the first duel in America was fought at Plimoth by two teen-aged boys over a girl. The life the Pilgrims led in Holland before coming to America also surprised me.
RFA and LMP: Was history always a living, exciting topic for you or did you learn to enjoy it as an author?
AR: As a child growing up in World War II, I was very moved and stirred by what was going on, but I distanced myself from history. I regarded history as just one more subject. In 1976, my editor at the daily newspaper in Trenton, N.J., where I was a columnist asked me to interview the man who was playing George Washington in the 200th anniversary celebration of the Crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day. From that interview, my 14-year-old son, 12-year-old daughter, my husband, and I joined groups that traveled around the country creating historical reenactments of the American Revolution. I learned my history, hands on. Oh yes, the son who was in the Crossing in '76 hasn't missed a year yet. He now plays General Greene, next in command to Washington, and brings his wife and small son along. The year 2000 marked his 25th crossing.
RFA and LMP: What influenced you to write historical fiction?
AR: My first historical novel, Time Enough for Drums, grew out of my family's participating in those historical reenactments. Ten publishers rejected that first manuscript, saying "We can't give children history." I persisted, and four years later managed to get it published. Ever since, publishers have asked me for nothing but history.
RFA and LMP: Of all the documents you examined for this journal, from the Mayflower Compact to Mourt's Relations, are there one or two of these historical documents you believe youngsters should read to get a better feel for this important period in American history?
AR: I think everyone should read Governor William Bradford's diary.
RFA and LMP: Young people enjoy reading historical fiction, yet many of them are not sophisticated readers who can discriminate between the historical and the created occurrences, dialogue, characters, etc. Can you offer any advice for parents, teachers, or librarians to help them guide their youngsters?
AR: Read the author's notes that I provide in the back of every book. Those clearly separate what is made up for the sake of story. In the final analysis, adults who work with youngsters need to be thoroughly familiar with the subject matter.
RFA and LMP: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce?
AR: That it was a difficult matter to start this country — and to make it free. It was not accomplished by people who were selfish in any way. The people who founded America, who fought for its freedom, did not look to anyone else to get them out of their troubles. They took matters into their own hands, and answered only to God and their peers. In today's world, sacrifice and hardship are not in the everyday language and instant gratification is foremost. We are losing many of the characteristics our ancestors had.
This interview was conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.