Avi Blog Header

Reading Charlotte Again

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
The first edition of Charlotte Doyle, published by Orchard Books in 1990.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was published thirty years ago.

That’s hard for me to absorb. Or accept. And because it is once again being considered for film (will it happen or not is anybody’s guess, including mine) after many years, I read it again.

What struck me first was the nautical knowledge it contained, very little of which I have retained. It was hardly given knowledge but the result of a lot of research. At the time I was living in Providence, Rhode Island and was able to visit any number of New England maritime museums, including the one at Mystic Connecticut, another in Bath, Maine. At the Mystic Museum I recall sitting in the bowels of the whaling ship, Charles W. Morgan and tried to pull in a sense of being on a sailing ship. I also boarded a two-masted brig and sailed about Narraganset Bay.

The Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport Museum.

I had to learn about the astonishing complexity of sailing ships. All those sails; each one having a purpose. I found a book which gave, in detail, the orders that rang out so sailors could adjust those sails for any given ship motion and/or function. I recall one such series of orders (never used) as to how to sail one of those big ships backward!

And the ropes! A spider web is simple in comparison.

But I think the essence of the book is Charlotte herself, her transformation from a naïve, inexperienced person, to one full of knowledge (including self-knowledge) strength and resolution. Key to that is her bonding with Zachariah, the old black cook. Curiously, in the early reviews that is not much mentioned. But, with him being the sole black, she being the sole girl on the ship, that allows them to form not just a friendship, but an alliance. It is an alliance that allows him to be the teacher, she the willing (needful!) student.

The current cover of
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

Countless readers (mostly girls) have told me how meaningful the book has been for them. One of my favorites: “Dear Avi, I have read your book sixteen times. It’s the only book I will read. My mother says I can’t read it anymore. Please write a sequel so I can read another book.”

And at conferences and the like, middle-aged women approach me and show me the tattered copy of the book and shyly say, “I’ve saved it all these years.”

One of my favorite comments about the book came from a critic who said of it: “Highly improbably but deeply satisfying.”

But wait! A couple of years after I wrote the book I came across an account of a young woman—(about the time the book takes place)—who, wanting to follow her lover (husband?) to America, donned men’s clothing, joined a ship as a member of the crew and sailed to Providence.

It happened!

And I’m always curious: Why was it important to so many readers? Do tell.

5 thoughts on “Reading <em>Charlotte</em> Again”

  1. I read it for the first time as an adult–about two decades ago now–but I loved it. I list it as one of my favorite novels of all time to this day. The perfect amount of details (and as a historical fiction novelist, I know how much research that takes) set me immediately in the scene and Charlotte–though I didn’t exactly relate to her–was so well written, I felt for her and needed to know how she survived that perilous adventure. It’s well crafted and engaging.

  2. My 4th grade class in 1993 were challenged readers. I chose to read True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle as the read aloud at the beginning of the year. At first, the class resisted and acted bored. I continued reading each day and soon our reading times stretched from the allowed 15 minutes to 1 hour or more each day. I have contact with some the class as adults and they still comment and remember this book.

  3. This story is my absolute favorite. You paint the scenes in my head. The details of how Charlotte was conditioned to behave like a lady. The advantage the captain and crew took through knowing how naive she was. The surprise of the courage she developed to stand up to the captain. The inevitable choice Charlotte made to abandon the prim life before the voyage when she realized how much freedom she would lose. The characters were so well defined as well. I wish you would allow your book to be performed by full-cast audio. When I try to read it aloud to students, not only does my female voice fail the men on the ship, I also can’t do the wonderful voices and dialects of a ships crew.

  4. I read Charlotte while taking a course to teach reading while in college. It was the Newbery winner that year and I fell in love with the story. Eventually I got a job teaching 5th grade and our school brought you in for an author visit. We had dinner together and you were incredible with your students. I have been teaching for 26 years and read Charlotte almost ever one of those years, even after moving to 4th grade. The story is timeless and has so many lessons. My students always say it’s their favorite and we always watch for the movie! It was our last book before quarantine. Thank you.

Comments are closed.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
%d bloggers like this: