Irish artist P.J. Lynch is known for illustrating books such as the beloved Christmas classic The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, recently released in a 20th anniversary edition. Lynch’s new historical fiction title, The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune, the first book he has both written and illustrated, was inspired by the life of Pilgrim John Howland. Howland’s story struck Lynch as a “quintessentially American one, of a man who started out with little and who, through sheer doggedness and good fortune, went on to achieve great things.”
The tale begins with young Howland scurrying through the streets of London to help his master, John Carver, provision the Mayflower for her voyage. Once at sea, Howland and the others endure seemingly endless bouts of bad weather. Incredibly, when Howland is swept overboard in a storm, he's able to catch hold of a rope for the brief moment it’s illuminated by a bolt of lightning.
Lynch vividly shows the harrowing experiences of the colonists during the winter of 1620 to 1621, and recounts the generosity of the Wampanoag tribe—including Squanto—that befriended them. After Carver’s death, Howland could have returned to England but chose instead to stay in Plymouth. An author’s note informs readers that Howland married fellow Mayflower passenger Elizabeth Tilley and had 10 children.
Enhanced by a large format that showcases Lynch’s striking watercolor and gouache illustrations, this fictionalized account of Howland’s story will spark young readers’ interest in learning more about the Wampanaog and English people who encountered one another so long ago.
Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book for young readers is Courage & Defiance.