Dear America Series, Various Authors, published by Scholastic, RL 4
When I first started working as a bookseller in 1995 the American Girls historical books were hugely popular. In 1996 Scholastic began publishing their Dear America series of books written at a slightly higher reading level. Thirty-six titles and nine years later they ended the series. Presented as diaries written by girls during important historical periods or events in America, there was and continues to be nothing like these books on the shelf. While I have not read one yet, as a bookseller I found them to be very popular with girls, a great series to move up to after finishing the American Girls books and also an excellent resource for kids who had to read historical fiction for class.
The series covered a wide ranges of periods and places from the Mayflower reaching America in 1620 through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the Salem Witch Trials, the Oregon Trail, the Dust Bowl, WWI, the Depression, Pearl Harbor and WWII. Experiences like the Suffragette Movement, the Immigrant experience, life as a Sioux, a Navajo, a slave, a freed slave, a blind girl attending The Perkins School for the Blind, a prairie teacher and, as in the last book in the series, Hear My Sorrow by Deborah Hopkinson, the experience of a young Italian immigrant girl working in a Shirtwaist factory in New York city who witnesses the birth of the labor movement as well as the terrible tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Well known children's authors such as Newbery winners Lois Lowry and Karen Hesse as well as Mary Pope Osborne, Patricia C. McKissack, Kathryn Lasky, Ann Rinaldi, Marion Dane Bauer and Megan McDonald authored many of the books in the series as well. For a complete list of the original thirty-six titles, their authors and subject matter, click here. At the end of 2010, Scholastic began reissuing this series, beginning with a completely new title, The Fences Between Us by Newbery Honor winner Kirby Larson, which begins in at the start of WWII in Seattle and moves to a Japanese internment camp in Idaho. This year, Lois Lowry adds a new book to the series with Like a Willow Tree, The Diary of Lydia Amelie Pierce, Portland Maine, 1918 and covers the effect of the Spanish flu epidemic, which I plan to get my hands on as soon as possible. Many of the old titles are being reissued as well and there are now fourteen available with more to come.
For those of you with great libraries, used book stores or a great website to buy used books from, don't miss these other books related to the Dear America series that are now out of print. The popularity of the series spawned the My Name is America series, which featured journals written by boys. Contributing authors include well known children's book authors Walter Dean Myers, Lawrence Yep, Rodman Philbrick, Joseph Bruhac, Susan Bartoletti and Ann Rinaldi and events covered included the Donner Party Expedition, building the Transcontinental Railroad, playing in the Negro leagues, and fighting as a Marine in the Vietnam war. This series would fill a gaping void that exists in the historical fiction genre for boys and I hope it returns to print with new titles.
One other series spawned from the popularity of Dear America and still out of print is the Royal Diaries which featured the intimate thoughts of historical figures in their youth such as Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Nzingha, Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Jahanara, of India, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Kristina of Sweeden, Weetamoo of the Pocassets of Massachusetts, Lady Palenque of Mesoamerica, AD 749, and Anacona, Golden Flower of Haiti, 1490, which was written by award winning adult author Edwidge Danticat.
Finally, there was a series Scholastic published titled My America, which was like the Dear America and My Name is America books but written at a second grade reading level. The books were written in trilogies and there are seven trilogies in all covering Jamestown, the Revolutionary War, the Oregon Trail, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War and the Immigrant experience all told from the perspective of the young main character.