The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle



Brilliant high-seas adventure is a classic.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

A strong depiction of 19th-century life and values, and heavily research-based view of sailing ships, sailors, and the trans-Atlantic crossing.

Positive messages

Some racism against a black cook. But otherwise, messages are very positive. Charlotte begins the story with ingrained race, class, and sex role prejudices, but learns better during the course of the book. She makes tremendous sacrifices to stand up for what she believes, and to atone for mistakes she made in ignorance.

Positive role models

Charlotte shakes off the shackles of her proper upbringing to become the person she decides to be, enduring much hardship in the process. She models looking at her own beliefs, outlook, actions, and their consequences objectively, then acting decisively to make real changes in herself and to atone for her mistakes.


A man is whipped almost to death, another is stabbed to death, and a third is beaten so severely that his arm must be amputated. Later he is shot and killed, graphically described, and his body is tossed overboard. A man strikes another with a belaying pin. A mention of men hanged and crows pecking out their eyes, and the young heroine is condemned to hang, though she doesn't.

Not applicable
Not applicable
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Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A mention of rum.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there is some violence here, some a bit graphic: men are whipped, and killed by knife and gun, and the young heroine is condemned to hang, though she doesn't. The story takes place in a time of racism, sexism, and rigid class distinctions.

What's the story?

Charlotte Doyle is a properly brought up young lady who is traveling from England to rejoin her family in America. Through a series of apparently coincidental, but suspicious, events, she finds herself the lone passenger on a forbidding ship. Initially, Captain Jaggery seems to be a true gentleman and the crew a motley collection of sullen lower-class riffraff. It is only after her snobbishly misguided actions have foiled a justified mutiny and resulted in the deaths of two of the crew that she finally begins to see the truth.

Is it any good?


Avi is an old hand at writing fine children's books in several genres, including historical fiction, and here he begins with one of the best opening hooks ever. Instead of an Introduction or Author's Note before the first chapter, CHARLOTTE DOYLE begins with An Important Warning. See From the Book below for that warning. From that promising beginning, the author sweeps us into a breathtaking and suspenseful adventure at sea.

The story is satisfying for several reasons. As an action-packed, edge-of-the-seat adventure, it should be appealing even to reluctant readers. It combines an exciting story with thought-provoking consideration of issues, such as bigotry, honor, justice, and the necessity of letting beliefs dictate actions. The characters, major and minor, are complex and unpredictable. And, of all of the genre-bending plot elements here, perhaps none is as enthralling as seeing a young teen girl take on a traditionally male role in the gender-divided 19th century, not by hiding who she is and pretending to be a boy, but by becoming her true self out of conviction and determination.

From the Book:
An Important Warning
Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. . .If strong ideas and action offend you, read no more. Find another companion to share your idle hours. For my part I intend to tell the truth as I lived it.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Charlotte's growth over the course of the book. Why does she see and act the way she does early on? What causes her transformation? Is it believable in the circumstances?

  • Have you, or anyone you've known, ever undergone such a change of viewpoint? Worked hard to atone for mistakes?

  • Is it possible to overcome what you've been taught from birth? How much of ourselves is determined by upbringing, and how much can we decide for ourselves? Can we deliberately change who we are?

Book details

Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Scholastic Inc.
Publication date:September 1, 1990
Number of pages:224
Read aloud:9
Read alone:10
Award:Newbery Medal and Honors

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written by45567789s August 2, 2014


Characters are abusive and obnoxious. Many shootings and disturbing scenes. Didnt care for this book.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Kid, 12 years old May 11, 2010
a great book i reccomend it
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great role models
Kid, 10 years old April 19, 2011
What other families should know
Great messages


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