This isn't your typical historical fiction. For one thing, it's well-written—a variety of successful children's book authors were employed to write individual volumes in the series, writers as diverse as Mary Pope Osborne, Karen Hesse and Lois Lowry to name a few. For another thing, children will get a good sense of a period of American history without wading through political and military facts. And you don't have to worry about bad language, sexual content, too much violence, inappropriate romantic relationships, or any other gratuitous elements unsavory for adolescent readers *.
Not that those topics are left out—while the narrators of each story are fictitious, many of the events they participate in are historically significant moments, from Civil War battles to the Oregon Trail to rationing on the home front during World War II. And many more. Stories appear in the form of diaries, so while there may not be dry facts presented in isolation, there are dates to offer perspective to easily confused young readers. The style of each volume reflects the class and context of the narrator, adding to the overall authentic historical feel.
Obviously extensively researched, these shouldn't be used as a primary source for history study but could act as supplements when studying particular stages of our nation's history. They also make great entertainment, and while none of the titles are likely to become classics of any kind, the quality of each volume is high and parents don't need to worry about a lot of inappropriate material. Which may be surprising, since diversity of authors usually leads to a weak link or two—here, however, it simply means readers won't get bored with the excellent variety.
A number of sub-series fall under the Dear America heading. The Dear America books themselves are presented as the diaries of young girls from the full spectrum of American history and geography. The My Name Is America books continue the same idea with boy instead of girl narrators. Branching into world history, The Royal Diaries are just what they sound like—fictional diaries "penned" by significant female royalty throughout history in their girlhood.
Most children are interested in history if it's presented in an engaging way and not as a list of facts to memorize. The Dear America books (and their supporting series) definitely avoid the latter pitfall. By focusing on writing good fiction as much as on evoking a particular historical period, the authors draw young readers in, creating characters that deal with the normal aspects of growing up as well as the turmoil of the Great Depression, the first Pilgrim winter, the Indian Wars, etc. A great series for boys and girls, Dear America is one of those rare contemporary series worth reading.
* We have not read or even skimmed every single book in this series, so we may have missed things. While we found no content that was a major problem for us, these books do portray life in a way that may be troubling for some. For example, a customer pointed out content in The Journal of Scott Pendalton Collins: A World War II Soldier: references to girls from certain countries being "easy" or "nasty;" gambling (poker); a guy "not even making it to first base" with a girl. These are not godly characteristics to be sure, but the book doesn't describe or condone explicit sin. They are also accurate to the time period and situation. You may wish to preview these before letting your kids read them, or you may wish to adjust when you let your kids pick them up.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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