Monday, July 22, 2013

A Lion to Guard Us

I don't see many historical fiction or non-fiction books for children regarding Jamestown. When I saw A Lion to Guard Us on a suggested list I thought it would be interesting to check it out of the library and review it myself.

The story begins in 1609 when a young sailor travels to a home to bring a message to a woman regarding her husband. The woman is ill, so the message is given to the eldest daughter Amanda. She discovers that her father is alive and well and has built a home for them in Jamestown. He hopes to be able to send for them in another year. Their visitor cannot stay and the girl is left with thousands of questions.

For those looking for a book on the Jamestown colony, there is little here. This is a story of adventure that requires a little suspension of disbelief. The children's mother was to have worked for their board while their father was away. However, with her illness, Amanda has taken on her chores. Her two younger siblings are restricted to a room or on the stairs while she works. While the owner is portrayed as cruel, it is also rare that the mother would have been allowed to keep the children with her while she lived in at the home. Most children will likely not know of that issue.

After hearing from the sailor, Amanda grows anxious about preparing to leave for America. The owner of the home already has plans to take the younger children on as unpaid servants Amanda does not want this for their future. When her mother dies, she sets off to put a plan in motion that will take them to America.

This is where the story gets a little less believable although portions of the ship's journey are historically documented. While no ship will take unaccompanied children to America, their mother's doctor decides he wants an adventure and offers to take the children with him. It is possible that the doctor would have had a sudden desire to emigrate. However, having the means and the will to take three children with him seemed a bit questionable. During the journey to Jamestown, the doctor is washed overboard, leaving the children alone again.

The title of the story comes from a doorknocker the children bring with them from the home the father sold to pay his passage and to keep the family in funds while he was gone. The money is lost to the homeowner when the mother dies, but the children manage to keep the doorknocker which becomes trouble for them during the story.

As the journey continues, a storm destroys the ship they are traveling on leaving them stranded in Bermuda. While the children’s characters in the story are historical fiction, the ship and the trip are not. This part of the journey is historically documented. Eventually new boats are built and the passengers are able to continue on to Virginia.

I think I was disappointed because the story was all about the journey and really had no time for the family to reunite and discuss their new life in Virginia. When they arrive, their father is gravely ill. There is no way to know if he lives or dies and then what happens to the children.

The author's interest was obviously in the perils of ocean travel for colonists. However, with so little historical fiction on colonial Jamestown, it would have been interesting to read what happened to the children when they arrived, how they settled in, and what became of them.

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