Heroes of History: Captain John Smith (Crew Book Review)

YWAM biographies
Renowned for bravery as a soldier, thrown overboard for religious differences, enslaved by the Turks, captured by pirates… the story of Captain John Smith was full of almost unbelievable adventure long before he ever met the Native American princess with whom his name is usually tied.  We’ve just finished reading Captain John Smith: A Foothold in the New World by Janet and Geoff Benge, part of the “Heroes of History” series from YWAM Publishing, and there is so much more to this man’s life that I ever imagined.  Along with the corresponding Digital Unit Study, this book has given us a great introduction to early American history.

About Captain John Smith

Christian Heroes {YWAM Publishing Review}John Smith grew up in England hearing about the adventures of Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to sail around the world.  Although his family expected him to live a quiet life in Lincolnshire, John was hungry to see the world.  After what was supposed to be a short visit to France at the age of sixteen, he set out on his own to make his own adventures.  He found work as a mercenary in various countries, ended up being captured and taken as a slave in the Ottoman Empire, escaped into Russia, rescued a damsel in distress, and made friends with men who sparked his interest in the New World–quite an adventure story!

England had not yet joined in the colonization of the Americas, and John Smith eagerly joined in the quest to establish a settlement.  He played an important role in the founding of Jamestown in 1607, where at one point he faced death at the hands of the local Native Americans and was famously saved by the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas.  After a serious injury, he left the New World, though he later went back to help create a map of the New England coast.  He published several books about his experiences and helped feed the imaginations of those in England who wanted to learn more about the New World.  He also helped Squanto, a Native American who had been kidnapped and ended up in England, get home to America, where he proved to be a great blessing to the Pilgrims who arrived in 1620 to form their own settlement.

John Smith’s relationship with the other leaders at Jamestown was often contentious, and while he may not be a model of faith like those featured in YWAM Publishing’s “Christian Heroes Then and Now” series, he is nevertheless a fascinating man to study.  His bravery and sense of adventure were especially appealing to my boys, and we learned a lot about leadership in this book, both through positive and negative examples.

About the Unit Study

As with the other books in the Heroes of History series, there is a downloadable Digital Unit Study that goes along with the 192-page softcover book.  The unit study includes the following:

  • brief biography of John Smith
  • curriculum unit study
  • meet the authors (with video interviews)

Before diving into the curriculum unit study, there are guides available with ideas for using the entire Heroes of History series in classroom, homeschool, and group settings.  The 17-page homeschool overview was obviously created by someone familiar with the differences between classrooms and home education.  I appreciated the organizational chart provided to help families read through several books in the series on either a 1-year or 2-year track in studying American history.  (They suggest choosing one book from each time period, but it would be easy to read through more than that, especially on the 2-year track.)  I also really liked that they broke down suggestions into “Parent-Directed Study” and “Student-Directed Study,” allowing the study guide to be helpful for a wide range of homeschooling styles.

The 81-page unit study itself is an incredibly rich resource, full of ideas for using the book as a launching pad for lessons in multiple subjects, such as history, geography, writing, reading comprehension, public speaking, drama, and art.  There are far more ideas than you could ever use, so you and your children can pick which ones will work best with their interests and learning styles.  Here’s glimpse at some of what’s included:

  • Key quotes (great for copywork)
  • Questions to go along with each chapter
  • Suggestions for projects, essay and creative writing prompts, etc.
  • Ideas for further study (related themes to explore, lists of books, videos,  specific National Geographic articles, websites)
  • Reproducibles (fact sheet, maps, timeline with events for students to fill in)

Final Thoughts

We’re just heading into the Age of Exploration and looking forward to American history, so Captain John Smith complemented our studies wonderfully.  I especially appreciated the map activities in the Unit Study, which helped everyone make sense of how Smith’s life fits into the greater historical context.

My children were fascinated by Smith’s story (though it has quite a bit of violence, especially during the telling of his days as a mercenary, so I wouldn’t recommend it for really sensitive children), and I was learning right along with them as I read the book aloud.  The only time I had ever heard of John Smith was in relation to Pocahontas, so I was just as enthralled as they were at his amazing life story.  Whether you’re specifically looking for a biography or just a taste of adventure, Captain John Smith: A Foothold in the New World is a book I’d highly recommend for fourth grade and up (or younger as a read aloud).


Members of the Crew reviewed several of the wonderful biographies from YWAM Publishing, so be sure to click on the banner below to see what they thought!

Christian Heroes {YWAM Publishing Review}
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