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.
There are thirty-six books in the original Dear America series:
- A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620 by Kathryn Lasky (1996)*
- The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777 by Kristiana Gregory (1996)*
- When Will This Cruel War Be Over?: The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864 by Barry Denenberg (1996)*
- A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859 by Patricia McKissack (1997)*
- Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell, 1847 by Kristiana Gregory (1997)*
- So Far from Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847 by Barry Denenberg (1997)
- I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina, 1865 by Joyce Hansen (1997)*
- West to a Land of Plenty: The Diary of Teresa Angelino Viscardi, New York to Idaho Territory, 1883 by Jim Murphy (1998)
- Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl, New York City, 1903 by Kathryn Lasky (1998)
- Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan, Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania, 1763 by Mary Pope Osborne (1998)*
- Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, RMS Titanic, 1912 by Ellen Emerson White (1998)*
- A Line in the Sand: The Alamo Diary of Lucinda Lawrence, Gonzales, Texas, 1836 by Sherry Garland (1998)
- My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880 by Ann Rinaldi (1999)
- The Great Railroad Race: The Diary of Libby West, Utah Territory, 1868 by Kristiana Gregory (1999)
- A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin, Fenwick Island, Delaware, 1861 by Karen Hesse (1999)*
- The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864 by Ann Turner (1999)
- A Coal Miner's Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska, Lattimer, Pennsylvania, 1896 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (2000)
- Color Me Dark: The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, the Great Migration North, Chicago, Illinois, 1919 by Patricia McKissack (2000)
- One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss, Vienna, Austria to New York, 1938 by Barry Denenberg (2000)
- My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck, Long Island, New York, 1941 by Mary Pope Osborne (2000)
- Valley of the Moon: The Diary Of Maria Rosalia de Milagros, Sonoma Valley, Alta California, 1846 by Sherry Garland (2001)
- Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, California Territory, 1849 by Kristiana Gregory (2001)
- Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932 by Kathryn Lasky (2001)*
- Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows, Hawaii, 1941 by Barry Denenberg (2001)
- My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher, Broken Bow, Nebraska, 1881 by Jim Murphy (2001)
- Where Have All the Flowers Gone? The Diary of Molly MacKenzie Flaherty, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968 by Ellen Emerson White (2002)
- A Time for Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen, Washington, D.C., 1917 by Kathryn Lasky (2002)
- Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: The Diary of Bess Brennan, Perkins School for the Blind, 1932 by Barry Denenberg (2002)
- Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards, Dalhart, Texas, 1935 by Katelan Janke (2002)
- When Christmas Comes Again: The World War I Diary of Simone Spencer, New York City to the Western Front, 1917 by Beth Seidel Levine (2002)
- Land of the Buffalo Bones: The Diary of Mary Ann Elizabeth Rodgers, an English Girl in Minnesota, New Yeovil, Minnesota, 1873 by Marion Dane Bauer (2002)
- Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson, Green Marsh, Massachusetts, 1774 by Ann Turner (2003)
- All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, The Santa Fe Trail, 1848 by Megan McDonald (2003)
- Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, a French Slave Girl, New York Colony, 1763 by Patricia McKissack (2004)
- I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1691 by Lisa Rowe Fraustino (2004)*
- Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker, New York City, 1909 by Deborah Hopkinson (2004)*
* The Dear America series was relaunched in September 2010 with their first new book since 2004, The Fences Between Us by Kirby Larson, set during World War II, as well as re-releases of earlier books (marked above with a star). We have not evaluated the newer titles at all.
New books in the relaunched Dear America series:
- The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis, Seattle, Washington, 1941 by Kirby Larson (2010)
- Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce, Portland, Maine, 1918 by Lois Lowry (2011)
- Cannons at Dawn: The Second Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1779 by Kristiana Gregory (2011) (this is the sequel to The Winter of Red Snow and the first sequel in the series)
- With the Might of Angels: The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson, Hadley, Virginia, 1954 by Andrea Davis Pinkney (2011)
- Behind the Masks: The Diary of Angeline Reddy, Bodie, California, 1880 by Susan Patron (2012)
- A City Tossed and Broken: The Diary of Minnie Bonner, San Francisco, California, 1906 by Judy Blundell (2013)
- Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose, Chicago, Illinois, 1871 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (2013)
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and 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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