The Dear America books are a large series of fictional diaries written from girls’ and boys’ perspectives at different times in American history. There are 5 diaries (that I know of) that are written from a boy’s perspective, the rest are from a girl’s. In covering close to 400 years of American history, from the Mayflower to the 1950s, the diaries are an informative glimpse at everyday life in those different time periods, which helps make history more real. As a young child I always thought history was just a bunch of facts and had nothing to do with real people. These books helped me realize that all of these facts that I have learned over the years have something to do with people who were real and lived at one point or another.
One thing to note about the books is that they are written by different authors. If you liked one, you might not like the next, but overall I really enjoyed these books. The diaries could be read aloud to younger children (6-9) as I think they might be difficult for many children to read on their own until they’re 10-11. As far as what age they’re appropriate to? Well, I’m 14 and still reading these books from time to time because they’re so enjoyable.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War diary of Emma Simpson written by Barry Denenberg. 1864 Emma Simpson is about 15 years old when this diary was written. She is from a wealthy family in the South. Her life is turned upside down when the Union soldiers take over her house and force Emma and her family to live in the attic. My favorite thing about this book was how Emma dealt with the soldiers and with what they were forcing her family to do. She had respect for the soldiers and their own duty but would not let them get in the way of her responsibility to look after her family.
2. Across The Wide and Lonesome Prairie. The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell written by Kristiana Gregory. 1847 This book a very real and uncanny version of the real trail stories. Many people die along the way and that fact makes this book more appropriate for those who are older (11-12). I really liked how Hattie deals with all of this death and the way she was a real pioneer.
3. A Picture of Freedom. The Diary of Clotee, A Slave Girl written by Patricia C. McKissack. 1859 Clotee was taught by the youngest white mistress how to read and learns a new word: F-R-E-E-D-O-M. She goes around the plantation asking all the other slaves what that word means. Clotee wants to know what it is and how it feels– and finally one day she experiences it herself. This particular diary made me think about freedom and what it is exactly. It also depicts the real and awful way slaves were treated.
4. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. The Diary of Bess Brennan written by Barry Denenberg. 1932 Bess is blind and goes to a school where she is taught how to deal with her disability. She has her sister write in the diary for her as she herself cannot write. I enjoyed reading about her life in such a different world than I will ever live in. Her attitude is cheerful and happy to do whatever it takes to be “normal”, like everyone else.
As you can probably see, I tend to like history in the late 1800s best, but there are a few very good books that take place in the 1700s, the 1600s, the 1500s, as well as a few in the 1900s. There are even Dear America books that are written from the perspective of princesses and queens in the past, including Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I.
The 5 diaries that are written in a boys perspective are these:
1. The Journal of Sean Sullivan – A Transcontinental Railroad Worker written by William Durbin. 1867.
2. The Journal of James Edmond Pease – A Civil War Union Soldier written by Jim Murphy. 1863.
3. The Journal of William Thomas Emerson – A Revolutionary War Patriot written by Barry Denenberg. 1774.
4. The Journal of Joshua Loper – A Black Cowboy written by Walter Dean Myers. 1871
5. The Journal of Otto PeItonen – A Finnish Immigrant written by William Durbin. 1905
The Dear America books make a great gift for a young girl that can be added to throughout the years. I highly recommend this series!