Bruchac, Joseph. Pocahontas. Silver Whistle, 2003.
Counter Narrative Connections
This upper-middle grade novel is a well-researched, fictionalized account of the relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith. The story is told with alternating chapters from the imagined diaries of Pocahontas and Smith. Joseph Bruchac adapts Smith’s diary entries from Smith’s real journal kept during his time in Virginia, and Pocahontas’ from historical ethnography conducted by Helen C. Roundtree and extensive conversations with the Algonquin community. Each Smith chapter begins with a quote from a contemporaneous author, and each Pocahontas chapter begins with a Powhatan story (which Bruchac has carefully reconstructed through ethnographic research). Bruchac is a highly respected children’s book author whose books regularly center Native American characters and stories. Bruchac himself is of Slovak and Abenaki descent.
While a slight reach in reading level, this book is one of the most thoughtful fictionalized accounts of Pocahontas available to children. The alternating perspective chapters strongly highlight the Euro-centricity of the Pocahontas master narrative and help readers begin to understand how these multiple historical accounts fit together. Through the combination Bruchac’s extensive research and his knowledge of Algonquin traditions through personal experience, the portrayal of the Powhatan people in this book is thoughtful and rich. Bruchac’s version of the Pocahontas story does lean toward an understanding of Pocahontas as a peacekeeper between the Powhatan and the English, but this is done within the context of a complex portrait of Pocahontas as a character.
Given the reading level of the text, it may be a good idea to use this book in conjunction with some reading comprehension work. You might try reading this book aloud as a group, stopping to discuss passages regularly. An advantage to using this book in such a way is that it will allow the students an extended, immersed time with Pocahontas’ story and the chapters from Pocahontas’ perspective. Extended time with Pocahontas’ “perspective” is particularly powerful given how frequently Pocahontas’ story is told solely from John Smith and the colonists’ perspective.
Diary and Epistolary Writing
Contexts of Personal Perspectives
Historical Fiction vs History
Researching Historical Fiction