Our Strange New Land, Elizabeth's Jamestown Colony Diary Discussion Guide
Lead a class discussion on this book by Patricia Hermes from the My America series.
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
Elizabeth is only nine when she and her parents leave Plymouth, England for Jamestown, Virginia, to establish America's first permanent English colony. Through her diary entries young readers meet such important historical figures as Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, and Chief Powhatan. Young Elizabeth writes of lazy settlers who steal from the Indians and the horrors of watching friends die from disease and starvation. But she also writes of the joys of a new baby being born, the courage and resourcefulness of the settlers, and the leadership qualities of people like Captain John Smith.
Our Strange New Land: Elizabeth's Diary, Jamestown, Virginia, 1609 has the ring of authenticity from the first diary entry. Of writing this book, author Patricia Hermes says, "At one time, I lived in Tidewater, Virginia, just a few miles from the original Jamestown settlement. I remember how hot and humid the summers were there. I know about the bugs. I know about the winter cold. I know about the swaying pines and the whisper of the rivers and the sandy soil and the rich marshland alive with birds.
"I also remember how lonely I felt when I moved there. So, when I created Elizabeth and her twin brother, Caleb, I think I knew something of how she felt. I knew how hard it is to leave family and friends. I knew how scary it was to be in a strange place with strange people and new foods, and different customs. I knew how lonesome it could be."
From her tales of a friendship with Pocahontas to the pride she feels helping her father build their home in the New World, Elizabeth aids today's readers in putting a human face on life in America in 1609.
"Life is up, and life is down. It is like the ocean in a hurricane," writes nine-year-old Elizabeth in her journal. After spending 71 days at sea, Elizabeth and her parents land at Jamestown, Virginia, in the New World. It is August 1609, and Elizabeth misses her twin brother Caleb who stayed behind in England.
She does have a new best friend, Jessie Bolton, and together they explore this strange new land, wading in the river, running through the forest, and meeting Indians, including thirteen-year-old Pocahontas. Still, it is not a carefree life, for there is much work to do, and "many are ill with fever," including Jessie's mother, and many have already died.
Elizabeth worries about her own mother who's soon to have a baby, because "so many babies and mamas have died in childbirth." Baby Abigail is born healthy, but Elizabeth's joy turns to sadness when she learns that Jessie and Mr. Bolton are returning to England with Captain John Smith. Mr. Bolton promises Elizabeth that he will take her journal to Caleb, and she writes one last time, "Oh, Caleb, it is a lovely land. When you join us here, come spring, we will rejoice. For then it will be a real home indeed. Home in America."
Thinking About the Book
- Why did Elizabeth and her parents leave Plymouth, England to come to Jamestown, Virginia? Did they find what they were looking for? Explain.
- In a sentence or two identify the following:
Captain John Smith
- Elizabeth's diary is filled with passages about how she misses her twin brother Caleb. Why did Caleb not make the voyage to Jamestown with his family?
- Relations between the settlers and Indians were not always friendly. What things did the settlers do to anger the Indians?
- What surprised Elizabeth about Pocahontas? What kind of person did Pocahontas seem to be? Do you think she would be a good friend? Explain.
- Elizabeth and Jessie were best friends, but they were also very different. List two or three ways that Jessie and Elizabeth differ.
- What do you think is the happiest scene in Elizabeth's dairy? What is the saddest? Explain your choices.
- Now that you have finished reading Our Strange Land: Elizabeth's Dairy, would you rather have been with Elizabeth in the New World of Jamestown or back in England with her brother Caleb? Why?
- Elizabeth feels "a big burden seems to have lifted from me" when she confesses to her mother that she took Caleb's drawing book without his permission and has used it for a journal. Think of a time you told the truth about something that was bothering you and tell how it made you feel.
- Make a list of all the new things members of your discussion group learned about living in Jamestown in 1609. Add your list to those of the other groups.
- Draw a picture of what you think Pocahontas might have looked like. Compare your picture with images of Pocahontas online. What surprised you most about the pictures you've discovered?
- In your discussion group, discuss and vote on the three best words to describe John Bridger. Compare your three words with those chosen by other groups.
- Summer sickness, which weakened many Jamestown settlers, was probably the disease malaria. Look up malaria and find out what causes it. What are the symptoms and how is it treated. What did the location of Jamestown have to do with people getting sick with malaria?
- Elizabeth's friend, Francis Collier, tells a story about food and spreading butter on scones. What is a scone? Try your hand at making some scones and share them with your class or discussion group.
- If you had a chance to ask Patricia Hermes, the author of Elizabeth's diary, one question about the book, what would that question be? Find more information about her here .
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.