The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle



Number of Pages: 


Minimum grade level: 


Charlotte was a good girl; she always did exactly what her father told her to do.

When her family decided to leave England and move back to America, Charlotte's father told her she would have to stay behind and finish school all on her own. And so that's what she did.

When school was out in June, Charlotte's father told her to pack up her things and get ready to sail home. So she filled her round-topped trunk with books and clothes and hugged her school friends goodbye. A friend of her father's took her down to the docks where there was a sailing ship waiting to take her back to America.

It was to be a long voyage - perhaps two months - but there would be other passengers on board and maybe some girls and boys the same age as Charlotte. At least that's what her father told her. But he was wrong.

The other families did not arrive, and when the ship set sail Charlotte was the only passenger and the only girl on board.

(Use a soft voice)

Now Charlotte had been taught to act like a little lady, with carefully combed hair and milk white skin and a clean silky dress and soft hands that had never even washed so much as a teacup.

(Use a harsh, louder voice)

But in just a few short weeks Charlotte's hair will be cut ragged and short, her face will be tan as any sailor's, her hands will be calloused and tarred from handling ropes and sails, she'll be wearing pants and a rough sailor shirt, and she will have been tried and convicted of murder.

What happened to Charlotte on board that ship? How did that good girl turn into a wretched murderer?

You'll find all the gruesome details in The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. When Charlotte meets Captain Jaggery in Chapter Four, she feels reassured that her world has been regained. What does she mean by her world?
  2. Just before he leaves Charlotte on the ship, Mr. Grummage says "in my world, judgments as to rights and wrongs are left to my Creator." Who decides right and wrong in Charlotte's world? How does this change as the story continues?
  3. When Zachariah offers Charlotte tea and friendship, he says that he and she have much in common. What do you think they have in common? What does Charlotte have in common with Captain Jaggery?
  4. After giving her the knife and sharing information about the Seahawk's previous voyage, Zachariah asks Charlotte if she believes in justice for all. Charlotte answers that she believes in justice "for those who deserve it." How does her sense of justice change as the story continues?
  5. When Charlotte tells Captain Jaggery about the knife, why does she lie and say Grummage gave it to her? Why does the captain insist that Charlotte keep the knife? Mr. Barlow tells Charlotte that the captain put the sailors on display for her benefit. Why would the captain do that?
  6. Does it seem realistic for a 13-year-old girl to do the physical work of sailoring-in good weather and in hurricane-as Charlotte does? Since the total voyage lasts only a month or two, would she have time to learn the skills required of a crew member? If she managed to overcome these difficulties, might Captain Jaggery be justified in thinking of her as "unnatural"-that is, outside the normal order of things?
  7. Early on, Zachariah told Charlotte that a ship captain is like a king or even a god to his people. If that's true and the sailors were attempting a mutiny, was the captain doing his duty in shooting the stowaway and punishing the would-be mutineers? Charlotte tells the captain that singling Zachariah out for punishment isn't fair. Is fairness the same thing as justice? Why does the captain ask Charlotte to choose the man to be punished for the attempted mutiny?
  8. Zachariah says "To kill a hand during such a storm, when everyone is desperately needed, takes a kind of . . . madness." Do you think the captain is insane? Why does he hate Charlotte so intensely?
  9. After Keetch betrays Charlotte and Zachariah's plan, the captain offers Charlotte three choices: to carry out the mutiny, to sail safely home as a normal young lady passenger or to be hanged for murder. Why doesn't Charlotte consider the first two options?
  10. Major events in the story depend on Charlotte's misjudging the people around her-Zachariah, the captain, Keetch and her own father. Does the book suggest how a person might make wiser judgments about people and situations?
  11. Why does Captain Jaggery's defeat depend on an accident?
  12. Charlotte says she had been taught to believe that "greater freedom held sway" in America than in Britain. Is this another misjudgment, according to the book?
  13. This book has been published with several different covers. Find as many different covers as you are able and compare them. Which cover do you think is most appealing? Which cover most accurately represents the story? If you only have one example of the cover art, do you feel it represents the story well?
  14. The appendix contains diagrams of the parts of a ship. Did you refer to these during the course of the book? How did they enhance your understanding of the story?


Tea and hardtack or ship's biscuit (or Goldfish crackers!) for the sailors; tea and Scottish shortbread for the gentry. Since British sailors learned to prevent scurvy by sucking on limes, a lemon-lime soft drink like 7-Up might also be a good choice.

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.