Brief Description: 12 yo girl defies orders to stay inside the fort of the new British colony; when she drops a figurine it is found by a 13 yo Native American and they form a secret friendship. Told in verse in alternating perspectives.
Geographical Setting: American National Parks, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, North America, North Carolina, Roanoke Island, United States
Historical Era: 16th Century
Date Range: 1587
Keywords: Carolina Algonquians, Croatoan, Desemunkepeuc, Governor John White, Lost Colony of Roanoke, Lumbee, Manteo, Native Americans, Roanoke, Secotan, Simon Fernando (or Fernandez), Virginia Dare, Wanchese, Wingina
Original Publication: 2015
Suitable for Grades: 5-8th
Target Audience: Middle Grade
When twelve-year-old Alis Harvie steps off the boat onto the beach at Roanoke Island, she has no idea what is in store for her. Alis is part of the small community of British people that have bravely accompanied Governor John White to the New World to establish a colony to be called “Virginia.” Having left her best friend behind in London, and being the only girl on this months-long voyage, Alis is lonely and longs for companionship.
Unbeknownst to Alis, another young girl, Kimi, spies her from the forest. Kimi is also a very lonely girl, having lost her sister to polio, the disease brought to her pristine land by an earlier British exploration. Kimi understands that the presence of women and children in this new group of invaders signals that they mean to stay. What new disasters will befall her people this time?
This unlikely pair will defy their elders’ warnings and befriend each other, bonding over a lost figurine, communicating through improvised sign language and teaching each other their foreign ways. This story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke is inherently intriguing for young readers because we still do not know for certain what happened to these first brave British citizens who attempted to make a life for themselves in a new and strange land. The novel in verse sensitively imagines a series of misunderstandings between the British and the Native American Roanoke that led to the disappearance of the first British colony. We learn much of the story from native Kimi’s point of view, as the girls learn to respect and eventually trust each other.
The title Blue Birds is inspired by one of Governor John White’s amazing watercolor paintings made on his first journeys to the New World. He not only documented different endemic species of plants and animals, he also painted scenes of his first encounters with the native Carolina Algonquians (a broad group that includes the Roanoke and the Croatoans). These water color paintings of the Algonquians comprise some of the best primary source material for the historical encounter between the English and the indigenous peoples. You can see White’s paintings here on the British Museum’s website, (click on the “Related Objects tab.)
This is the only children’s novel I am aware of that features the Lost Colony. Back matter includes an Author’s Note describing her inspiration based on the known historical facts, and where she took artistic liberties to create this story. She also discusses the current thinking on what may have happened to the lost colonists. There is also a glossary of Algonquian words used in the text. You can find an Educator’s Guide here from the author’s website. The National Park Service also has great educational resources for this historic episode on its website for Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.