While kids are perfectly capable of memorizing names, dates, and facts, it's stories that usually give them a real sense of the past and the people who inhabited it. The facts are certainly important, but getting a feel for past eras is the key to understanding history as an unfolding narrative, and to identifying with those who've gone before. Historical fiction is one of the best ways to impart this sense or feel, and that's at least part of the motivation for the folks behind Salem Ridge Press.
Salem Ridge Press represents the efforts of Daniel and Christiana Mills, a young couple from Pennsylvania who've dedicated themselves to republishing a number of older titles in handsome formats for the next generations. Each book is selected for its moral rectitude and championing of virtue and/or Christian faith. Daniel Mills uses Philippians 4:8 as his guide for choosing new titles to reprint:
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
There's an interesting tension in many of the Salem Ridge Press titles that isn't easily resolved—though the stories are mostly Victorian-era novels about heroism, virtue, and Christian faith, and thus are squeaky-clean as far as content is concerned, they also feature the savage and brutal persecution of Christians throughout the ages, and thus are much darker and more sobering fare than most "wholesome" reading.
The trouble isn't that the persecuted Christians are portrayed as virtuous, of course. The strangeness is in the fact that these texts are so completely devoid of the rougher and more sinful aspects of human existence, yet they portray the persecution of faithful Christians in a way that is at times frightening and violent. Consequently, these books often end up a little lopsided in the realism department, with moral vices more or less hidden, but with the animosity of unbelievers to the truth in full view.
The Mills state plainly on their site that these texts have been minimally tampered with. References to kissing or embracing have been edited out, certain "derogatory comments" have been deleted, and many of the original illustrations have been edited for the sake of modesty. While we can appreciate the motive behind this, we can't think of a body of literature more pure and less offensive than Victorian-era wholesome fiction, and eradicating everything that might be even remotely offensive is not only to clean up the literature, but to give young readers a false view of the past.
Still, these books fill an enormous gap in literature for young readers and early teens. There's plenty of wholesome literature out there; there's not much historical fiction that deals specifically with important eras in Christian history. Though not all of the books selected by Salem Ridge Press are explicitly Christian, Christian historical fiction certainly makes up the bulk of their catalogue (particularly titles by Emma Leslie), and the other titles often contain references to Christian faith and virtue.
Most of the titles are part adventure story, part Christian hero/martyr story, set in ancient times, early Middle Ages England, and Reformation Europe. The books are pretty readable, though some younger readers might stumble over the occasional archaic dialogue ("thee" and "thou" type of stuff). Overall, however, these are accessible texts, and the publishers have even included brief bios of famous people appearing in or referenced in the texts, as well as vocabulary notes of foreign or difficult words.
Kids need to have the right heroes, and what better place to get them than from the books they read? The men, women, and children in these historical adventures are definitely the kind that we want our own children to look up to, especially when they face persecution, hardship, and even death for the name of Jesus Christ. These books aren't the greatest literary works of their age, but they are solid stories about goodness, virtue, and faith in the face opposition and evil.