The Starving Times: Elizabeth's Jamestown Colony Diary Discussion Guide
Use this book summary, student activities, and discussion questions when reading the book by Patricia Hermes.
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
To The Discussion Leader
The Starving Time: Elizabeth's Diary, Book Two continues nine-year-old Elizabeth Barker's story of life and death during the first year settling the Jamestown, Virginia colony. Through Elizabeth's diary entries young readers come face to face with gnawing hunger as the settlers dream of food but face the stark realities of starvation and disease. Elizabeth observes the goodness of people who share what little they have and the evil and laziness of others who steal from their fellow colonists.
As in her first diary, Elizabeth introduces readers to historical figures in American history from Chief Powhatan and Pocahontas to Captain John Smith and Lord de La Warre. In The Starving Time, the colonists of 1609 live again as a nine-year-old encounters fear, hunger, friendship, birth, death, and love in the New World.
It is October 1609, and as nine-year-old Elizabeth watches the ship sail away, she is "trying to be brave." She writes, "it is hard because Jessie, my friend, is on that ship. Captain Smith, my friend, is on the ship, too. They are returning to England. And we are left behind here in Jamestown. I have lost so much. I feel angry and black in my heart." Yet Elizabeth enjoys watching her baby sister, Abigail, grow, and she gradually becomes friends with some of the children in the settlement: Francis Collier, a friendly, cheerful boy, and Mary Dobson, a girl she previously didn't like.
As winter approaches, food becomes scarce, and the settlers are hungry all the time. Since Captain Smith has gone, there is no strong leadership in the settlement. People steal from each other and from the Indians as well. The previously friendly Indians are now more hostile. Venturing outside the fort to hunt for food is dangerous. Many people become ill, and Elizabeth's mother goes to care for them in the "sick shed."
Baby Abigail becomes weaker and weaker, and Elizabeth fears her sister will die. She decides to go to the Indian village, find her friend Pocahontas, and ask for help. Weak from the fever, Elizabeth collapses on the way, and the Indians lead her back to her home. They leave food for the starving villagers. Elizabeth visits the sick shed and learns that her mother is very ill, and so is her friend Francis. Sadly, both her mother and Francis die while Elizabeth is with them, and she is brokenhearted.
Months later, as Mary and Elizabeth sit by the river, they see a supply ship approaching. At last there is food, medicine, new leaders, and more men, women, and children. Best of all, Elizabeth writes, "Caleb [her brother] has joined us here. We have built a house — a home — in Jamestown. We are at home in America."
Thinking About the Book
- Elizabeth writes that this is her second journal. What happened to her first journal? Where did she get this one? Why is it so special to her?
- Elizabeth makes it very clear that she does not like the Bridger family. In fact, she writes that they are "...loud and crude and vulgar and very, very lazy." List at least three reasons for her feeling this way.
- When food becomes scarce in Jamestown, the settlers are forced to eat things they never would eat in ordinary times. What evidence is there that they were desperate for anything to eat? What do you think you would have done if you'd been there?
- Identify the following characters who appear in Elizabeth's diary. In a sentence or two explain why each of these people is important in Elizabeth's life.
Lord de La Warre
- Early in her diary Elizabeth reflects, "I do think I have learned a lesson. I will not judge people before I know them." How did she learn this lesson?
- On page 82 of her diary, Elizabeth decides, "I no longer feel so afraid to go out into the forest. I no longer feel so afraid of the Indians. Many of them are good and kind." What causes her to come to this conclusion?
- What happens that makes Elizabeth write (p. 95), "There is no hope here. When I said that to Papa today, he only sighed. He did not even scold me. That is how bad he feels."
- What do Elizabeth and Mary see on June 10, 1610? What does this mean to the people of Jamestown?
- Elizabeth comes up with a secret code for writing things in her diary that she wants no one else to be able to read. It would be easy for anyone to break this code. Create your own secret code and write a diary entry in that code. Share your entry with the other members of your discussion group and see if they can crack your secret code.
- Much of Elizabeth's time is spent thinking about and writing about food. On December 23, 1609, she and Mary pretend that they have had a big dinner and come up with six words to describe what it feels like to have eaten a lot. Since it is most often hunger that Mary and Elizabeth really feel, create a list of six words that describe being very, very hungry.
- With no money to buy toys, Elizabeth makes them with materials she find around Jamestown. Like Elizabeth, see if you can create a tiny set of plates, bowls, and cups using acorn shells. Or craft a simple doll stuffed with pine needles and painted with a smiling face.
- The Powhatan Indians lived in the area of the Jamestown settlement. Learn more about the Powhatan Indians and how they lived. What did you learn about their way of life and how they helped the settlers?
- One of the foods Elizabeth says she ate even during some of the starving times was hardtack. With the help of an adult, make some hardtack and share it with your group. How do you like this food? What does it taste like?
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.