Oxford Bookworms Library - Stage 1
Retold by Tim Vicary
400 headwords; Lexile measure 470L; Grades 6-10
This is a graded reader meant for young readers or learners of English as a second language. It's a Stage 1 book, so the vocabulary is limited, and the author has to tell the story in simple words and as straight-forwardly as possible. Dialog is imagined, and the illustrations are meant to aid in telling the story.
The author states that he read John Smith's A General History of Virginia, and the story conforms generally to John Smith's version. However, a one-sided love story of Pocahontas for John Smith is imagined in this book,, so we can't say the book is accurate. Too much is made of her longing for John Smith with the beautiful blue eyes (an idea that John Smith never hinted at). Also, the portrayal of the Indians in this book makes them appear rather pathetic, with John Smith portrayed as a hero, dominating all those around him.
The rescue story has a bit of nuance, as it imagines Pocahontas conferring with her father about what to do with John Smith before she performs the rescue scene, thus conforming to one of the current interpretations of the story, that they were acting out an adoption ritual. The final conversation between Pocahontas and John Smith in England is a really unfortunate interpretation, as it imagines her saying how much she loved him and how she was broken-hearted when he left Jamestown. Her supposed unrequited love is one explanation for this reported dialog, but historians have made other more plausible ones.
This version of the Pocahontas story is about half fiction, so I can't really recommend it. Students studying history or looking for an actual biography should definitely avoid it. However, as a graded reader meant to foster reading skills, I'd say it's reasonably successful. It's a story for young people in the myths & legends genre, but based on a historical person.
The True Story of Pocahontas; Step Into Reading 3
by Lucille Recht Penner
Lexile measure 440L; Guided Reading Level N; DRA 30; Grades Pre-K, K, 1, 2
Like the book directly above, this is a graded reader. However, this one is meant for children, with large type and kid-friendly color illustrations, Interestingly, this book tries to have a more Indian-centered story. Whereas the Oxford book above has the Indians afraid of the settlers, this book has it reversed, with the English afraid to leave their fort. Both books have Pocahontas saving John Smith (that's what she's famous for, after all) However, this book does not mention any kind of love story between Pocahontas and John Smith. He's just a character that interacts with her for a while and then leaves. The first 90% of this book is pretty faithful to the history of Pocahontas that we know. However, perhaps because the book is for small children, it chooses to avoid the sad ending that a truthful account would require. In the end, Pocahontas and John Smith meet once more in England and have a friendly chat. There is no mention of Pocahontas's scolding of John Smith or her unfortunate demise. In fact, the final sentences are: "Pocahontas stayed in England for the rest of her life. But the people of American will always remember her." I have to admit, it's a rather ingenious way to make a factual statement without telling the whole sad truth!
The Double Life of Pocahontas
by Jean Fritz
Puffin Books (1983)
Lexile measure 910L; Guided Reading Level T; DRA 50; Grades 6-12
Of the children's books on Pocahontas that I've read, this is one of the better ones, though it's certainly not for young kids. I would say this one is for junior high school students or even first and second year high school students. It covers most of the standard Pocahontas story and introduces a lot of characters. Considering when it was written, it's fairly progressive, trying to find a middle ground between an Indian perspective and the colonizer myth. It portrays Pocahontas as being torn between two worlds.
Many will still find this book to be too biased on the colonizer side, as it makes a little too much of Pocahontas's affection for John Smith. In the last chapter, it has her lamenting that Smith never comes to visit her, and when he finally does, she is overcome with emotion. The book also has her praying to stay in England instead of returning to her home. Interestingly, it has her feeling distant from John Rolfe, who wants to remove the "Indian-ness" from her.
An interesting idea is the account of the child Pocahontas playing with the colony boys and learning the phrase, "Love you not me?" which she is presumed to have taught the other Indian girls for use in their famous dance before John Smith some years later. Overall, I recommend this book, though I realize people on both the Indian side and the colonizer side will not be entirely satisfied.
by Shannon Zemlicka; illustrations by Jeni Reeves
First Avenue Editions; Lerner Publishing Group; Millbrook Press (2002)
Lexile measure 430L; grades 3-5; guided reading level L; grade level equivalent 2.1
I rather like this book for young readers, and the illustrations are great. I still have some things to nitpick, but I think the pluses outweigh the minuses. On the plus side, this book gives a nuanced view of the John Smith rescue story. First it tells the story much as other books have done. Then it says that Smith may have made it all up. At a young age, then, readers are asked to hold two conflicting possibilities in their mind. Interesting. Next, rather than portray Pocahontas and John Smith in a romance, the two are shown to be good friends, chatting when possible and teaching each other their own language. The second rescue of John Smith at night in the woods is reported without skepticism. Next, the book skips ahead to when Pocahontas is a young adult and suddenly she is kidnapped. She marries John Rolfe, who says he loves her, but we are told that she may not have loved him back, as she was a prisoner. This seems reasonable, and is very progressive for a children's book. We are also told that she may not have truly accepted her Christian religion, and we can't be sure her marriage was happy. Her death is described as traditional history tells us, with no specific cause of death, but from illness. These are all reasonable points, and rare in a children's book. I wonder what children think of it?
As a minor nitpick, the book says early on that Pocahontas, being the daughter of a chief, didn't have to work growing up, as her family had servants to grow food and make clothes. I'm not sure that's completely supported by anthropologists, although some historians hint that as the daughter of Wahunsenaca, she may have had a somewhat privileged upbringing.
Pocahontas: An American Princess
by Joyce Milton; illustrations by Shelly Hehenberger
Penguin Young Readers Level 4 (2000)
Lexile measure (about?) 460L; guided reading level N; interest level grades 2-4; grade level equivalent 3
The all-color illustrations are attractive, but a few of them may not be accurate. First are the sizes of the English ships, which seem to rival the Titanic. Next, the Powhatan canoe is clearly not a dugout. Even Disney got this right. I have some doubts about the clothing and hairstyles, but no books really get this right, or even try to, as books for kids don't want to portray nakedness, and the real Powhatan look doesn't seem to appeal to artists.
I have a number of quibbles with the text, but the last page really got my attention. The author writes: "But before the ship reached the open sea, Pocahontas had died. Pocahontas was buried in England. John Rolfe took their son Thomas back home to Virginia. To this day, there are families in Virginia who can trace their history back to this early American princess. And now you know the true story of Pocahontas."
I suppose there could be worse errors, but it's funny to see Milton say Rolfe took his son back to Virginia - he did not, and worried about his reputation for not doing so - followed by the "true story" comment. It's no wonder Linwood Custalow decided to write a myth of his own. As with some other books, this one has Pocahontas "longing to stay in England in the country of John Smith." Apparently her death prevented an impending love triangle. Naturally, the famous John Smith rescue is in evidence, though the idea that the rescue was staged is offered. The lesser known second rescue is mentioned. too. On the positive side, some details of the Pocahontas story which don't usually appear in kids" books do appear here. For example, we learn that John Smith got burned and had to leave for England. Also, the settlers tried to get Powhatan to bow down and accept the rule of the English king, which he refused to do.
This book is probably a bit better than I made it sound. It's not one of the worst. Ultimately, I judge this book to be about 1/3 fiction, with some moments of clarity.
Pocahontas: Young Peacemaker (Childhood of Famous Americans)
by Leslie Gourse; illustrated by Meryl Henderson
Aladdin Paperbacks; Simon & Schuster (1996)
Lexile measure 660L; grade level 4-6; age range 8-12
Oh, man. This book is why I should write a paper on children's books about Pocahontas. I feel like the author tried hard to include all the relevant, known history about Pocahontas, and she even managed to cast some doubt on the John Smith rescue, saying it may have been a hoax. She also tried to represent the Powhatan side of things, frequently featuring Powhatan voicing his concerns about the English without making him appear stupid or afraid. On the other hand, the outlook is always cheerfully supportive of the English colonizers and their motives, which I suppose it had to be, or it would never have been published in this series for children on "Famous Americans." There are many things to criticize, such as how Pocahontas "felt equally comfortable with the English and her own people" and how she happily agreed to serve as the colony's representative to London, saying "That's a wonderful idea. ... I'd be honored to go." Ultimately, I can't see Native Americans being pleased with the book, but it does have some nuance, and tries to be accurate and balanced in its 20th century way. I rank it maybe fourth, after the Elisa Carbone, Jean Fritz and Shannon Zemlicka books.
There's a historical point I need to research, which is why books from this era seem to think Pocahontas interacted with John Smith even before his famous rescue scene. I've seen that in other books as well (see Doherty above). This is a historically doubtful aspect of this book, as it implies that Pocahontas was already friends with Smith, which is why she supposedly rescued him.
by Caryn Jenner
DL Readers; Beginning to Read Alone Level 2 (2000)
Lexile measure 290; grade level 1-2; age range 6-7
This is a large type book meant for very young readers. It's another one of those books that assumes Pocahontas met regularly with the colonists right from the moment they landed. It then, somewhat more accurately, sticks to the bare bones of the commonly told Pocahontas story. The John Smith rescue and second rescue are told as literal truth. Pocahontas and the English colonists are all portrayed as enthusiastic and happy. Only the Powhatan warriors appear to be perpetually angry and distrustful. Pocahontas is portrayed as the peaceful mediator. She goes from being kidnapped, to being dressed in "heavy" English clothes to going to church with her new English friends in the blink of an eye. Because the book is for young readers, the book avoids most controversy. However, it does mention the Indians wanting to attack and kill the English and John Smith. The kidnap by the English is glossed over, and other than that, there is little indication the English are in any way bad actors. In this telling, it's Pocahontas who wants to marry John Rolfe, not the other way around. She dies in the end, so it's faithful to the truth on that point. As with many books from this time period, the Sedgeford Hall Portrait incorrectly appears as an illustration of Pocahontas and Thomas Rolfe.
The inside illustrations are colorful and have a comic book quality. They don't seem to be too culturally inaccurate, except for Pocahontas's hairstyle and clothing. The cover art, on the other hand, inexplicably uses very inaccurate, out-dated artwork with Plains Indian tepees and Aztec (?) costumes. Extremely weird choice of cover art, considering the quality of the art used inside.
Pocahontas: Princess of the New World
by Kathleen Krull; pictures by David Diaz
Walker & Company, New York (2007)
This large, color illustration picture book for children is unique among the Pocahontas books reviewed here, as it seems to be a book for parents to read to their children, not really one that children are expected to read themselves, as the type is small and the vocabulary fairly challenging. The illustrations are stylized and attractive, with a kind of "paper-cut" quality to them. I rather like this one and rank it in the top tier, but of course, I have some issues.
According to this book, Pocahontas had "powerful" arms from paddling her dugout canoe. She also avoided certain jobs that were beneath her status. The author accepts that Pocahontas saved John Smith twice, though the author at least leaves open the possibility that the first "rescue" was part of a role-play..The author believes she fell in love with John Rolfe and that she was furious with her father for not rescuing her. Clearly, much of this is conjecture, but it conforms fairly well with what many historians have offered. The author also qualifies the account by saying that we only have English sources, so there is room for doubt about almost everything. This book tells a very nuanced story, but I wonder if children can really follow the caveats, disclaimers and multiple viewpoints. On the other hand, those features are what make this book unique and valuable.
In Their Own Words: Pocahontas
by George Sullivan
Scholastic Reference (2001)
Lexile measure 680L; grade level 3-7; age range: 8-12
Unlike the graded readers and children's books above, this book is not in the form of a historical novel, but rather a straight reference-type history for young people. It sticks very closely to the commonly reported records on Pocahontas, which means the voices of the original chroniclers, John Smith and William Strachey, are at the forefront. Because this book came out before the revisionist works of Rountree, Gunn Allen and Townsend, the colonizer slant appears rather strong in comparison. That said, this book is one I would recommend, with reservations. Readers should understand that Native Americans aren't well represented. Nevertheless, most of the basic known facts about Pocahontas emerge without too much embellishment. There is an anachronistic error, in that this book, like many that came before it, claims that the Sedgeford Hall Portrait is of Pocahontas and Thomas Rolfe. However, we learned in 2010, roughly 9 years after the publication of this book, that the portrait is not of Pocahontas at all. Of course, we should also consider some of the claims of John Smith to be suspect, but this book accepts most of them without skepticism. On the plus side, it does mention the various interpretations of the John Smith rescue, including the possibility that it didn't happen at all. It's funny that this book is found in a series called "In Their Own Words," since Pocahontas left no words of her own. Every word attributed to her comes second-hand. This book will not appeal to young children; it's more of a junior high, early high school book. I rate it as "not bad."
Young Pocahontas in the Indian World
by Helen Rountree
Printed by J & R Graphic Services Inc. (1995)
I respect Helen Rountree as the foremost authority on Powhatan history and anthropology and have read and 'reviewed' several of her books.. She was kind enough to correspond with me by email, though not about this book. That said, I am rather unenthusiastic about this particular work. It's kind of illustrative of the problem of telling the Pocahontas story while trying to stick to what we actually know. We have so few details about Pocahontas's early years that there just isn't much to be said. Plus, Rountree made the editorial choice to end the story before the marriage of Pocahontas to Rolfe and their voyage to England, saying "all of that is another story." What's left is unlikely to appeal to many children, for whom this book is presumably aimed. Rountree, relying on her anthropological research, devotes almost the whole book (52 pages) to telling how a girl of 11 or 12 would have passed her time in her Powhatan village in each of the growing seasons. For example, in early summer, she would have helped search for edible greens and gather firewood. In late summer, she would have gone out in early morning to harvest corn with her mother, Later in the day, she would have watched the village women make clay pots. Like this, most of the book is devoted to daily Powhatan life. If your child is a budding anthropologist, or writing a report on Powhatan culture, this book may work for you. It's certainly got a unique angle, and it avoids the romantic speculation that I've criticized in most of the books appearing on this page. On the other hand, if you're looking for the truth about Pocahontas, you may be disappointed to learn that the reality is so mundane. Consider this a very 'niche' selection. I suppose it deserves credit for dispelling some of the myths.
First People: The Early Indians of Virginia
by Keith Egloff & Deborah Woodward
University of Virginia Press (1992, 2006)
This book seems to be for junior high and high school students who are writing reports on the Virginia Indians, and one imagines it on the shelves of every public school in the Commonwealth. It's a reference book, so it's not exactly a page-turner, but it contains adequate, simply written information on the native populations of Virginia from 15,000 years ago to the present day. The chapter on European Contact contains a 9-page summary of the Jamestown/Powhatan story. The chapter on Virginia Indians Today tells a bit about each of the 8 tribes that remain. At 96 pages, including the lists and resources at the end, it's a quick read.
Pocahontas - True Princess
By Mari Hanes (1995)
With cover art reminiscent of “Dick and Jane”, a pet otter in place of Disney’s raccoon, and a decidedly Christian slant (Multnomah is a Christian books publisher), this is one of the more 'quaint' versions of the Pocahontas story. Much is made of Pocahontas turning away from devil worship and embracing Jesus Christ as her redeemer; "... Jesus died on the cross so we ourselves don't have to make any blood sacrifices" p. 136. Heavily fictionalized, the book features both questionable Powhatan culture (birchbark canoes, human sacrifice, Pocahontas a member of the 'Algonquian tribe') and doubtful Jamestown history (a sympathetic Percy, Pocahontas present at Jamestown for most significant events, her tending to the ill settlers like an Indian Florence Nightingale p. 92, her banishment to Potomac for betraying her father p. 111), Some aspects of culture and history, though, are accurate enough. As a story, it’s readable, but anyone not specifically seeking a Christian slant should probably avoid it. This is another book that I suspect inspired Custalow & Daniel to publish their ‘corrective’ but equally mythical version of the Pocahontas story. One point that makes me smile is that the author chose to make Pocahontas's mother Potomac (Patawomeck) p. 111. While not necessarily accurate, the Patawomecks are one of the Powhatan tribes that currently claim Pocahontas. This detail in the book helps counter recent misinformation about Pocahontas’s tribal identity, which is often falsely said to be Mattaponi. To be clear, the actual tribe of Pocahontas is unknown and could be Patawomeck, Mattaponi, Pamunkey or any of the original 30+ tribes identified in the first years of Jamestown..