I have long admired the artwork of P.J. Lynch, ever since I read Melisande, E. Nesbit's fairy tale about a princess who, cursed at birth, grows up bald, but happy until an overlooked wish is uncovered and things go awry. In what I am pretty sure is his first picture book as both author and illustrator, The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower or John Howland's Good Fortune, P.J. Lynch proves that he is as gifted a story teller with words as he is with pictures. Together, his talents increase exponentially.
Lynch begins his story in London, a fine city that smells horrible. John Howland, indentured servant to John Carver and narrator of The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower or John Howland's Good Fortune, works mostly as a messenger for Carver. Preparing for the journey across the Atlantic, Howland plays a key role "copying out lists of supplies and letters to the business men" who were lending money to fund the journey. It interested me to learn that Howland was literate. Lynch, both with words and pictures, makes the harsh, brutal journey vivid in the cold, wetness and squalid living situations that he brings to life.
Things don't get much better when the Mayflower reaches land, with half of their people dead or dying by the time they reached land. The continued struggles of the pilgrims were grim, but the arrival of Squanto, a Patuxet who was kidnapped and taken to England where he lived for years, learning to speak English fluently. When he was finally able to return to his tribe, he found them decimated by plague brought by the white man. Squanto and John Howland's interactions were possibly the most fascinating part of the story for me, after Lynch's magnificent illustrations, of course.
What makes The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower or John Howland's Good Fortune stand out from the many other picture books about the Mayflower, the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, which is broached here, is the first person narrative of Howland. Not only did he survive the crossing and the first challenging years of the Plymouth Colony, it is interesting to learn that he had never planned on staying in the first place. Howland had three years to go on his servitude. When his master and eventually his master's wife died, leaving him free, he prepared to leave but didn't. P.J. Lynch has managed to take a story that I thought I knew so well I was bored with and made it interesting to me again, as I know he will do for all readers fortunate enough to pick up this gorgeous, important book.
More books by P.J. Lynch: