An Interview With Kathryn Lasky About A Journey to the New World
The author discusses her book, part of the Dear America historical fiction series.
Richard F. Abrahamson and Linda M. Pavonetti: What did you enjoy most about writing A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple?
Kathryn Lasky: What I enjoyed most was writing from the perspective of an ordinary twelve-year-old girl. When I was growing up I loved reading historical fiction, but too often it was about males or if it was about females they were girls who were going to grow up to be famous like Betsy Ross, Clara Barton, or Harriet Tubman. No one ever wrote about plain, normal, everyday girls. I always wondered what it was like to be just a normal kid growing up in trying times or during a great moment in history.
RFA and LMP: Would you describe the research that went into the writing of this diary?
KL: Saints and Strangers by George Willison gave me a really good picture of the conditions and the history leading up to the Saints, or Separatists, first leaving England for Leyden and then to America. There was, of course, William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation. But, the very best book was one by Bradford and Edward Winslow called Mourt's Relation. This couldn't be beat for documenting every step taken when they got to the New World and also gave the most detailed description of the General Sickness that wiped out half the settlement that first year. Also there were several children's books that were extremely helpful especially Marcia Sewall's books, The Pilgrims of Plimoth and The People of the Breaking Day, and Kate Water's elegant photo essays that recreate life among pilgrim children and their families, Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl and Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy. Then I read many books on 17th century cooking, herbs, medicines, healing practices, superstitions, and customs; plus lots of books about the Mayflower itself, and 17th century navigation. Oh, yes, I visited the Plimoth Plantation and I went aboard the replica of the Mayflower.
RFA and LMP: How did your own experiences sailing the Atlantic affect the writing of Remember's adventures?
KL: With my husband, I have twice sailed across the Atlantic in a sailboat one third the length of the Mayflower. I know Atlantic gales inside and out. I endured one that lasted for three days with winds up to fifty knots. I have thrown up, puked, and cast at almost every longitude between Boston and Land's End in England. I have changed sail on a bucking deck being washed by crashing fifteen foot waves. I have gone for 29 — count them — days without a bath or shower. But I have been awed by the incredible vastness of the ocean and its infinite mystery, and I have learned of both its beauty and its terror. I have seen whales swimming through the still pink and shimmering waters of a windless dawn. I have seen frigate birds carving arcs in a pale rose sky. I have seen dolphins frolicking off the pressure waves from the bow of our boat and wanted to jump right in and join them.
RFA and LMP: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading A Journey to the New World?
KL: I hope readers would see that history was not just reserved for great people, or heroes, or Patriots. That ordinary people played a part too. And that, most importantly, there is a distinction in living an ordinary life with dignity, with hope and with courage; that under certain conditions such as the trying times of the people on the Mayflower and at Plimoth, just being normal and ordinary has its own peculiar kind of grace and courage.
RFA and LMP: What is one question you'd like to ask children after they've finished reading the diary?
KL: I would like them to look around and see if they know any pilgrims today. I don't want them to think of pilgrims as a relic of the past. In our community here in Boston, we have had a tremendous influx of Russian Jews and Haitians. We call these people immigrants. But they come for the same reasons that William Bradford and William Brewster and John Carver came. They are as brave and full of hope and faith as the 17th century pilgrims. I don't understand why those guys of three centuries ago get all the credit and the accolades. The immigrants coming today into Kennedy Airport, or wherever, have every right to be called pilgrims, and the pilgrims of the Mayflower have every right to be called immigrants. I would hope that kids today might take care to listen to these modern day pilgrims' stories, for they will find extraordinary and true stories of bravery and strength and faith amidst ordinary people.
This interview was conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Oakland University, Department of Reading and Language Arts, Rochester, Michigan.