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Who's Saying What in Jamestown, Thomas Savage? Hardcover – April 5, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 3–5—Thomas Savage, 13, accompanies Captain Christopher Newport on his second sailing from England to Jamestown, arriving in the "New World" in January 1608. Newport and John Smith give Thomas to the Native American leader Powhatan and ask the boy to learn the language and act as an interpreter. As tensions between the English and the Native people mount, Thomas's position becomes precarious. Eventually he goes to Virginia's Eastern Shore and becomes one of the first white landowners there. Fritz usually writes nonfiction, but she could not find a great deal of factual information about Savage's life. She says in her foreword, "Without documentary evidence of what went on in Thomas' mind, I have to call this book historical fiction." However, she seems reluctant to commit to the genre and, as a result, Thomas is not a fully realized character. Sentences that include "perhaps" or "he may have" preserve historical accuracy, but serve to distance readers from the action. The charcoal drawings were "colorized on a computer, printed onto stipple paper, and finished with acrylic paints," a process that gives the colors depth and texture. However, the depiction of the Native people does not fit historical descriptions from the period. Instead of looking intimidating, all the Natives appear avuncular and unthreatening. There are no shaved or partially shaved heads; no face or body paint in evidence. The whole book has a somewhat old-fashioned feel to it. However, libraries looking to expand their resources for Jamestown's 400th anniversary may want to include this title in their collections.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Fritz takes what is known of Thomas Savage's life and creates a vivid if sometimes disturbing narrative that depicts aspects of life in Jamestown nearly 400 years ago. According to her account, in 1608, 13-year-old Thomas was sent to live with the Native Americans, learn their language, and become an interpreter. Shuttling between the two cultures, Thomas befriended both John Smith and Powhatan. When relations between the communities became troubled, Powhatan lured 60 colonists to his capital, where half of them were shot and one was dismembered, burned, and skinned while Thomas looked on. With the hope of peace destroyed, Thomas returned to Jamestown and grew up to become a landowner on the Eastern Shore. Cataloging-in-publication places the volume in nonfiction, but Fritz notes that "Without documentary evidence of what went on in Thomas's mind, I have to call this book historical fiction." Librarians may want to heed Fritz and shelve the book in fiction collections, but the intended audience is unclear. A description of torture, even though not depicted in the artwork, seems out of place in a book for middle-grade children, while the many colorful illustrations give it an elementary-school look that may be off-putting for middle-school students. Also, one illustration depicts a European woman helping with the reconstruction of Jamestown after a fire in early 1608, though the first woman colonist would not arrive until fall. For purchasers, the book's intriguing story must be viewed against its many flaws. Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 7 and up
  • Grade Level: 2 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 810L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (April 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399246444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399246449
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #272,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"The question I am most often asked," Jean Fritz says, "is how do I find my ideas? The answer is: I don't. Ideas find me. A character in history will suddenly step right out of the past and demand a book. Generally people don't bother to speak to me unless there's a good chance that I'll take them on." Throughout almost four decades of writing about history, Jean Fritz has taken on plenty of people, starting with George Washington in The Cabin Faced West (1958). Since then, her refreshingly informal historical biographies for children have been widely acclaimed as "unconventional," "good-humored," "witty," "irrepressible," and "extraordinary."In her role as biographer, Jean Fritz attempts to uncover the adventures and personalities behind each character she researches. "Once my character and I have reached an understanding," she explains, "then I begin the detective work--reading old books, old letters, old newspapers, and visiting the places where my subject lived. Often I turn up surprises and of course I pass these on." It is her penchant for making distant historical figures seem real that brings the characters to life and makes the biographies entertaining, informative, and filled with natural child appeal.An original and lively thinker, as well as an inspiration to children and adults, Jean Fritz is undeniably a master of her craft. She was awarded the Regina Medal by the Catholic Library Association, presented with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award by the American Library Association for her "substantial and lasting contribution to children's literature," and honored with the Knickerbocker Award for Juvenile Literature, which was presented by the New York State Library Association for her body of work.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Yana V. Rodgers on August 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Thirteen years old and orphaned, Thomas Savage left England in 1607 to seek a different way of life in the new settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. On the first supply ship to support the newly established Jamestown settlement, he worked as a cabin boy for Captain Christopher Newport. Shortly after reaching Jamestown, Newport and Captain John Smith asked Thomas to live with the Algonquian Indians in order to learn their language and become an interpreter and message carrier between the Indians and the English settlers. This fascinating book, based on historical fiction, describes Thomas's experiences living with the Algonquians and befriending the children, including Pocahontas, as well as their King Powhatan. He courageously carried out his duties as interpreter, even during violent conflicts that put his loyalties to test.

This book, published in 2007 at the time of Jamestown's 400 year anniversary, tells an interesting story about a real person in American history who we know little about. Woven throughout the story are a number of economics lessons, including the importance of natural resources, human resources, jobs, scarcity, trade, and barter. With its rich historical and economics content, this sixty-page book makes an excellent addition to any collection of children's books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Heiss on October 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Whoa, this is a great fictionalized account of a real person, based on notes, records, and memoirs left behind by other people -- Thomas Savage did not keep a diary or leave behind a record of his life.

Like everything Jean Fritz writes, this book is entertaining. This is a step away from the biographies that are her usual specialty, in that the historical record leaves a lot of gaps where Thomas Savage is concerned. But the character she presents in this story is believable and likable -- an Englishman adopted by Powhatan and serving as an interpreter for decades.

Having said all that... I'm a mom with a family of boys, and some kids can handle the sudden violent details presented in this book. But some kids can't.

Your child will read about the the torture and death of Jamestown colony's second president, John Ratcliffe, who was tied to a tree and had every appendage sawed off with sharpened seashells, then was further tortured by being flayed alive. There are other instances of Indian attacks and massacres on the colonists, filling in context for your children on why the settlers felt such widespread fear of the Indians. This book also presents the colonists' predations on the Indians.

Parents know what is best for their own kids.

If this book isn't quite right for you, try "James Towne: Struggle for Survival" by Marcia Sewall.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Retired teacher on May 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Good book at 4th or 5th grade reading level to present a detailed account of history. I found it a bit too detailed for pleasure reading. Way too many names. A pronunciation guide would have been helpful for the Indian names.
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