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Top 100 Children’s Novels #46: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

#46 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (1990)
44 points

This is by far the best of Avi’s books. Non-stop adventure and a girl protagonist. Who could ask for anything more? – Martha Sherod

When I read this book for a children’s literature course I was completely blown away. I had never read anything like this written for children before. It doesn’t patronize or placate or sugar coat. It is an awesome adventure story for kids, the fact that it stars a feisty female as the main character is just a plus. It also has one of the greatest first lines of a novel ever! – Amy Miele

Well, naturally after Amy said that I had to find the first line. Here it is: “Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.”  Yeah.  I’m gonna give her this one.

I run a bookgroup for kids between the ages of 9 and (now) 14 out of my library.  One day one of my best readers came up to me, clutching a copy of The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle in her hot little hand.  “We HAVE to read this!” she insisted.  “It is so good!”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I hadn’t actually read it myself at the time.  But I took her at her word and brought it up with the rest of the group.  Charlotte Doyle is part award winner, part crowd pleaser, and altogether enjoyable.  I tell you, man.  Those Charlotte fans.  They’re insatiable.

Publishers Weekly describes the book in this way: “Told in the form of a recollection, these ‘confessions’ cover 13-year-old Charlotte’s eventful 1832 transatlantic crossing. She begins her trip a prim schoolgirl returning home to her American family from England. From the start, there is something wrong with the Seahawk : the families that were to serve as Charlotte’s chaperones do not arrive, and the unsavory crew warns her not to make the trip. When the crew rebels, Charlotte first sides with the civilized Captain Jaggerty, but before long she realizes that he is a sadist and–the only female aboard–she joins the crew as a seaman. Charlotte is charged with murder and sentenced to be hanged before the trip is over, but ends up in command of the Seahawk by the time it reaches its destination. Charlotte’s repressive Puritanical family refuses to believe her tale, and the girl returns to the sea.”

Now according to Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, “Avi first entered the realm of children’s books as a character.  His fourth-grade class was portrayed in Bette Bao Lord’s book In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, and Avi made his debut as Irvie, the silent member of the group.”  An auspicious beginning to say the least.

In terms of this particular book, Silvey says, “Avi had been working on another book, The Man Who Was Poe, when he began thinking about The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.  At first he thought he would write a mystery, entitled ‘The Seahawk,’ set on the high seas.  But as he wrote, he cared more and more about Charlotte – and ultimately decided that it should become her book.”  On his website Avi also explains that, “As for the title, when I thought of it, I assumed it would not work because there must be a million books with a similar title. But when I checked, to my amazement, there was not one. Happy to grab it.”

For a moment there, it was thought that Danny DeVito would direct the cinematic version of this book.  Indeed, they’d already cast Pierce Brosnan and Saoirse Ronan.  In June of 2009, however, the Sunday Mirror reported that, “the movie’s writer and director Danny DeVito is being sued by New York businessman Michael Caridi who claims he helped raise the funds for the project.  The lawsuit could delay production of the picture, which is being made by Brosnan’s company Irish DreamTime and DeVito’s Jersey Films.”  Due to the fact that we haven’t heard any updates on the movie since this article came out, “delayed” is probably the least of it.

The book won the sole Newbery Honor of 1991.  What beat it?  Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.  Good year, that.

  • Read some of the book here.

Kirkus gave the opinion (in a starred review, no less) that the book was, “tautly plotted, vividly narrated, carefully researched: a thrilling tale deepened by its sober look at attitudes that may have been more exaggerated in the past but that still persist.”

Publishers Weekly said of it, “Charlotte’s story is a gem of nautical adventure, and Avi’s control of tone calls to mind William Golding’s 1980s trilogy of historical novels of the sea. Never wavering from its 19th century setting, the novel offers suspense and entertainment modern-day readers will enjoy.”

Said School Library Journal, “Awash with shipboard activity, intense feelings, and a keen sense of time and place, the story is a throwback to good old-fashioned adventure yarns on the high seas.”

Five Owls thought it was, “expertly crafted and consistently involving, it is sure to excite, enthrall, and challenge readers.”


About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. A great book and it’s great to see all these covers collected here. What a range! If all these Charlottes were in a room together, would they get along?

  2. I purchased a copy of Charlotte at my son’s school’s book fair. I did nothing else that day but read that book.

  3. Oh, I loved this one in middle school!