April 12, 2016

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Poetry Friday Special Guest: Caroline Starr Rose

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone. It's been raining here in Maryland, and I'm thinking of the poem "November for Beginners" by Rita Dove.

We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give...

We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.

This week's Poetry Friday host is Bridget
at Wee Words for Wee Ones.
You'll find a feast of poetry posts there
We are preparing to "sit down in the smell of the past" at my house. It's less than two weeks until Thanksgiving, when we'll gather together for turkey and treats. The biggest treat of all? Our son is coming home from college for a short visit.

This is the time of year when elementary schoolers engage with the past, often learning about Thanksgiving's roots in the history of the United States. The focus is often on Plymouth Colony. But there were other early colonies that deserve our attention and study as well.

Today, guest blogger and verse novelist Caroline Starr Rose is here to tell us more about one of the earliest English colonies in America, at Roanoke Island.

That historical story is the subject of Caroline's most recent novel-in-verse, BLUE BIRDS.

Find out more about the book
on Caroline's website.

It’s that time of year when thoughts turn toward Pilgrims and Plymouth and America’s beginnings (at least as far as the English go). Most of us remember learning in school that Plymouth wasn’t America’s first English colony. That was Jamestown, established thirteen years earlier in 1607.

But not as many of us recall that twenty years before Jamestown, another English settlement tried to take root and failed. This colony, a collection of 117 men, women, and children, started on Roanoke island, 150 miles southeast of Jamestown. All we know about the colony and its inhabitants took place over a five-week period in the summer of 1587.

The colonists had been promised land in the Chesapeake Bay, perhaps not far from the place that eventually became Jamestown. But throughout the voyage, their leader, Governor John White, fought constantly with ship captain Simon Ferdinando. By the time they arrived in Virginia, Ferdinando was done. He left the colonists at Roanoke, refusing to take them any farther.

This and other drawings
from Roanoke Island
by John White can be viewed
at First Colony Foundation.
This was not the first time the English had visited Roanoke. Explorers had come to the island in 1584, and interactions with the Native population had been positive. But by the time the colonists arrived in 1587, the English were no longer welcome. Those intervening years included the burning of a Native village because of a missing silver cup, the Roanoke’s growing frustration as English soldiers who’d built a fort on their island insisted the tribe provide for them, and English diseases that decimated many of the Native peoples. Then escalating mistrust between the Roanoke and English led to English leader Ralph Lane’s pre-emptive attack on the tribe, killing Wingina, the Roanoke chief. When, days later, the English left, they knew there was no chance at reconciliation.

When the colonists arrived, the stage was set for tragedy, and tragic things happened on both sides. I wanted to show this historical truth in my verse novel, Blue Birds, but I also wanted to breathe into the history my own version of hope: Two imaginary girls destined to be enemies choosing friendship instead.

Alis, who is English, and Kimi, who is Roanoke, face many barriers to their friendship, the first being their own perceptions of each other. Both see the other as foreign, inferior, and strange. Kimi, who has lost family members at the hands of the English, understandably is angry. When an Englishman is killed one week after their arrival, Alis understandably is scared. Yet both girls are curious — Kimi about the English women and children that have come to Roanoke this time, Alis about her new surroundings, including the Roanoke girl.

The girls move from seeing the other as an oddity to understanding the humanity they share.

Soon both girls make excuses to leave their homes so they might meet each other. The closer their bond grows, the more risks they are willing to take. While the adults around them rage, these children find a common ground.

This poem, told in both girls’ voices, illustrates just that:

Alis                                  Kimi

This must
remain secret.

My people
would not understand.

We share
no language.

She does not
know our ways.

Because of her tribe,
we live in fear.
The English
tried to destroy us.

Yet she’s shown
me kindness.

She knows

She is Kimi,
a Roanoke Indian,

an English girl.

She has

my friend.

While Blue Birds is rooted in fact, I’ve used my imagination to fill in the blanks. I hope readers will finish the book interested in learning more about Roanoke, England’s very first New World colony. But I hope even more that Alis and Kimi’s bravery might encourage all of us to discover the commonalities we share with those who feel different from ourselves.

Caroline Starr Rose is the author
of the verse novels
Thank you so much for this lovely post, Caroline. Alis and Kimi's friendship is timeless, but fraught with tension because of the time and place where they meet.

For those of you who are interested in the history behind BLUE BIRDS, there have been recent archaeological developments in the search for the Roanoke settlement. Check out this New York Times article from August.

REMINDER to Poetry Friday bloggers: 

Spaces are limited for THE LAST FIFTH GRADE book vine. If you’d like a chance to meet Ms. Hill’s fifth grade poets before they debut, read more about it here or sign up now! I’m sending the Advanced Reader’s Copy out on Poetry Friday tour soon.


Linda B said...

I'm embarrassed to tell that I've had Blue Birds on my shelf for a while & still have not read it. You've made me want to get to it soon. There is such need to try to understand the "other", & this sounds like a wonderful book to share with students. Thanks for the Rita Dove poem, and the interview, Laura. We've had a bit of rain, quickly changing to snow. I love your connection of 'sitting in the smell of the past'-just right for a college student coming home.

jama said...

So lovely to hear from Caroline today. I have this book on my TBR list and can't wait to crack it open. Since moving to VA I've become especially interested in learning more about early colonial history.

Bridget Magee said...

I am intrigued - Blue Birds is going on my TBR list ASAP. Thank you, Laura, for featuring Caroline and her book today. Though it is about the past, the theme of "the commonalities we share with those who feel different from ourselves" resonates just as loudly today. =)

Margaret Simon said...

I loved this book. The friendship that grows is sweet and poignant. You might need tissues nearby. Caroline will be Skyping with my class in a few weeks. Can't wait.

Jessica Bigi said...

this poems are simply beautiful and rich of culture and enduring friendship's that out way that all life
I will have to look for this book in my library

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

You have the perfect poem for every occasion, Laura! Thanks also to Caroline for sharing a taste of Blue Birds. I love the premise– that "these children find common ground while the adults around them rage."

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Thank you so much, Laura, for hosting me and sharing such enthusiasm for these dear girls.