Have you ever heard about the boy who fell off the Mayflower? This true story is told in brilliant form as award-winning illustrator P.J. Lynch publishes his first story ó a true account of John Howlandís harrowing trip across the Atlantic. Lynch is well-known for illustrations in The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and When Jessie Came Across the Sea and lives in Dublin Ireland. baystateparent caught up with him during his Boston-based tour, during which he is visiting schools and famous spots around Plimoth Plantation to share this timely and true story.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower or John Howlandís Good Fortune is the first book youíve illustrated and written. Why this topic?

This topic had been bubbling under with me for years. It was something I really wanted to illustrate for years, but I was kind of coy about being a writer. I had worked with [illutsrated for] some great top classical writers like Dickens and Oscar Wilde, so I was a bit nervous about the writing process. As the years went on, with each crop of books that came out I was dreading someone else would discover the story of John Howland. Eventually, I buckled down and started writing.

What was it like researching this book?

I did a huge amount of research. I was trying to find ways to bring in little elements without laboring them. Thereís a lot of little hints in there. For instance, John Howland has a conversation with one of the other mates on the ship. Heís been given a slice of orange. Most children wonít get it, but some adults who know about scurvy just might get the hint of why John survived when other people didnít. I came to be interested in the Pilgrims whensomeone sent me a story about 15 years ago. It was for younger children with rhyming couplets and it was very, very nice. It was about the Pilgrims meeting the Wampanoags. It was very cozy and I felt sure things werenít as sweet and nice as all that. So I went and did lots of research and I found things were pretty good between the colonists and native people. I did want to bring in the stealing of the seeds (when the Mayflower first landed the colonists stole seeds from the Indians). I thought the book required a longer telling to bring out those little nuisances. In most of the histories, John Howland is a footnote. It got me interested. My god, this guy fell into the ocean in the middle of a storm and survived. So what happened next? That was my question.

What is the illustration process like?

It was much easier because I have been doing book illustrations for 30 years. Once I pinned down the text, I gave myself about 18 months to do the pictures. The only tough part is there was so much work. Itís much larger than the average picture book. I went to Plymouth Plantation to take pictures and visited Mayflower II, and got old prints. When I get all that together, I work with models for the main characters and take lots of photographs of them. But itís very important for me that my work doesnít look photographic, so I knock it back a stage and hopefully it looks nice and organic.
What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing this?

Probably the most amazing thing was that (Howlandís story) continued, he survived through starving during the first winter ó he was a man servant and most of the servants didnít survive. It was against the odds. He married Lizzy Tilley and they had 10 children and 88 grandchildren. There are probably 10 million Americans descended from them and many are well known (Alex Baldwin, Christopher Loyd, the Bush presidents). The more important legacy of John was not his direct descendants so much as the fact that he survived and he wrote home to England and his two brothers followed him. Their descendants included Presidents Nixon and Ford, as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Two of the three leaders of the allied forces were Howland cousins. So that moment of him catching that rope (when he went overboard) was pretty important.

Whatís next for you?

Well, I think that took a lot out of me in writing department. Iím at work on (illustrating) a book which has another New England angle on it, about John F Kennedy and his visit to Ireland. Itís written by a very talented writer, Ryan Tubridy, and is about a little boy desperate to meet the President. Itíts all about the excitement in Ireland and the glamour of his visit.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower or John Howlandís Good Fortune by PJ Lynch (published by Candlewick Press) iretails at $17.99