The Littlest Pilgrim is a picture book for preschool children by Brandi Dougherty, illustrated by Kirsten Richards. It’s about a 3 or 4 year old girl, Mini, who wants to help the older kids and adults to do the work in the Plymouth Colony. She goes around the village asking if she can help with jobs like stacking wood, hunting, and fixing a door. Everyone either ignores her or tells her that she’s too little to help. Then she spots a Native American girl of about the same age in the forest and realizes that she’s not too little to make a friend.
Plymouth Colony was, of course, the first settlement of the Pilgrims who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620. The settlement in the book could be any of the many settlements spread throughout the Plymouth Colony. The Plymouth Colony was much larger than most people think. It covered the whole southeastern portion of Massachusetts as well as some of present-day Rhode Island.
It grew so big over most of the 17th century. The Plymouth Colony was ended in 1691 when it became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
This book is more of what I’d call a “concept” book than it is historical–despite its setting. I’d say that the main idea is that a child is never too young to make a new friend–and perhaps more importantly, make a friend with someone very different from him/herself.
As I read The Littlest Pilgrim, I thought a lot about how different life is today for a preschool child than it was for a Pilgrim child of the same age. A Pilgrim child, even as young as Mini, would not be wandering around with nothing to do. From the Plimoth Plantation website:
In the 17th century, parents believed that children should be taught the skills they would need to survive as an adult. In Plymouth Colony, this meant that a large part of a child’s day was filled with work. Children as young as five ran errands, fetched wood and water, or even herded chickens!
If Pilgrim parents were anything like their neighbors to the north, the Puritans, one of their biggest fears in raising their children would have been idleness and laziness. This being the case, I’m sure that even preschool age Pilgrims were kept busy with something productive.
What a tough life! Pilgrim parents basically treated their kids like little adults! This idea is so different from our approach to child-rearing today that I have trouble even identifying with Pilgrim children. Did they have any sense of fun or enjoyment of humor or joy in listening to stories? Did they laugh at loud at odd-smelling farts?
Did they ever race each other to the end of the street and back? Did they ever drop snow down each others’ shirts? Did they ever play hide and seek or any similar game? Or were all of these normal kid activities stamped out of them early on?
I’ve clearly overanalyzed The Littlest Pilgrim… It’s a sweet, romanticized story of a little Pilgrim girl who makes a new friend. But it’s kind of interesting to think about how it’s romanticized, isn’t it?