The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce Discussion Guide
Begin a class discussion of the book by Ann Rinaldi, whose story puts a human face on the first Thanksgiving.
To the Discussion Leader
Ann Rinaldi brings her reputation as an award-winning author of historical fiction characterized by meticulous research to her first book in the My Name Is America series — The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce: A Pilgrim Boy .
As she started the research for this journal Rinaldi said, "I knew what the average American knows about Pilgrims, that they came over on the Mayflower, stepped onto Plymouth Rock, and would have starved that first winter if not for the help from the Indians. Then, having made it through the first year, they celebrated the first Thanksgiving.
"Once I started the research those facts became dots that needed lines to connect them and complete the picture. And the full picture is indeed a story worth pursuing."
The picture Rinaldi creates is an exciting collage with scenes from Jasper's journey on the Mayflower to graphic stories of the difficult times the settlers faced in New England to journal entries describing the important relationship between the Pilgrims and the Indians. Through Jasper's journal walk important historical figures of the day: Governor Bradford, Squanto, Captain Miles Standish, Samoset, Governor Carver, and Massasoit.
The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce: A Pilgrim Boy puts a human face on the first Thanksgiving. Courage, faith, determination, the excitement of living out one's dreams, and the sadness of watching dreamers die, can all be found in this exciting piece of historical fiction.
Saints, strangers, soldiers, and sailors. These are the people crammed "to the gunwales" on the Mayflower's decks and holds. The shallop, a smaller boat used in shallow waters and stored out of the way 'tween decks, is Jasper Jonathan Pierce's favorite place to write, read, and listen. Jasper is a bound servant — seven years of service in exchange for passage — and one of the motley group who will forever be called America's Pilgrims.
Although Jasper's former life was tragic — his mother died of the pox, his father died in prison, and his younger brother was left crying on the dock in London — his future is bright with promise. His new master, Elder Brewster — one of the Saints, or puke-stockings as they have been dubbed by their adversaries — is kind and looks upon Jasper as a son. Within days of setting sail, Jasper's kindness and willingness to help out has endeared him to almost everyone on board the Mayflower. However, when mischief or misfortune appear in Jasper's new life, Edward Dotey and Edward Leister lurk nearby in the shadows. The two Edwards are sixteen and seventeen-year old indentured servants who tease and resent Jasper because he can write.
After a dangerous journey during which the prosperous winds shift to raging gales, the Mayflower makes landfall on Jasper's fourteenth birthday, November 9, 1620. "Didn't I say you'd have a fine birthday gift, Jasper?" As he stared at Mrs. Hopkins holding her newborn son Oceanus, "the light in the east broke through some clouds and shone down, making clear the outline. I could see trees, a forest, sandy beaches."
Jasper Jonathan Pierce continues to write in his journal during the troubled first year of the Plymouth Colony. He chronicles the joys and sorrows, the fights — even a duel between Dotey and Leister — and the pleasure of discovering new territory. However, there comes a time when Jasper's dread of his adversaries, the two Edwards, propels him into doing something rash, something he quickly regrets. As Jasper Jonathan Pierce concludes his journal, he writes, "I shall put it away, but keep it always. For I have come to be a man here in this place. There is much work to do."
Thinking About the Book
- Why does Jasper refer to Elder Brewster as "my master"? Explain what "indentured" means.
- In a sentence or two identify the following
- After Jasper runs away from his problems with Dotey and Leister, Elder Brewster says, "Would that you had come to me with your fears and let me allay them" (June 12). Jasper promises that he will do so in the future. How do you feel about "tattling" on your peers? Was Jasper right or wrong to keep quiet?
- How did the Indians help the Pilgrims survive in the New World?
- While he is being tested by Aspinet, Jasper writes, "How could I have been so stupid? What did we really know about the Indians and their ways? I became angry, then. I was an Englishman! They could not treat me this way" (June 8). Does this statement say anything about Jasper's views of the Nauset people and other Native Americans? Is Jasper justified in thinking that because he is an Englishman he should be treated with respect?
- What did you learn about early American life in 1620 that you did not know before reading this book?
- The first book in the Dear America series A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple tells the story of a girl coming to Plymouth on the Mayflower. Her story has been made into a video. Read the book or watch the video and compare Remember's story with Jasper's. How were their experiences different? How were they the same?
- Ask each member of your discussion group to select the most exciting scene in Jasper's journal. Take the scene that was most often chosen by the members of your group and perform it as a skit in front of the class.
- Two "bound servants," Edward Leister and Edward Dotey, play an important role in The Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce. Did these two young men ever really live in Plymouth during the 1620s or were they fictional characters made up by the author? Find two sources to support your answer.
- Read Barbara Cohen's picture storybook Molly's Pilgrim. Is there such a thing as modern day Pilgrims?
- Learn more about the Plymouth Colony with Scholastic's research starter tools . You can view photos of the reconstruction of the Plymouth Colony at The Plymouth Colony Archive Project of the University of Virginia.
Discussion Guide written 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.