Recently in this blog, I was somewhat dismissive of the “historical fiction” genre for adults. While I personally still prefer biographies to fanciful re-creations of events and characters, I’ve now been reminded of such fiction’s potential value for children, and thus gladly issue a “mea culpa”. My earlier words are proving ever so tasty…
Some of our finest writers for children and young adults share their talents in the multi-volume series Dear America, published by Scholastic. Its titles began appearing in 1996, then briefly ceased, to be revived in 2010. The J. Erik Jonsson Central Library’s Children’s Center and many branch libraries own a vast assortment of the books in both this series and a companion group, My Name Is America.
Each title is ostensibly a young person’s “diary” or “journal,” as s/he describes challenges faced during a particular era or event in American history. The variety of settings is vast: from 1763 Pennsylvania to 1968 Massachusetts; 1880s California to 1942 Long Island; 1835 Texas to 1919 Chicago, to name but a few. The narrations are steeped in atmosphere and detail, and the young voices we “hear” ring true no matter what their origin or context. Among the many award-winning authors represented between the two series are Karen Hesse, Walter Dean Myers, Kathryn Lasky, Barry Denenberg, Jim Murphy, Ann Rinaldi, and Mary Pope Osborne.
The volumes also include additional historical material supplementing the main texts, including photographs, illustrations, maps and bibliographies. Within the space of 200 pages or less, a reader will be transported into American history in a way standard textbooks may well struggle to match in immediacy. I doubt there’s a youngster among us who will fail to relate to at least one of these remarkable narrative voices.
And, as a bonus, some of these voices can be literally “heard” as well. Thanks to grant monies from the Dallas Stars Foundation, the non-profit agency Reading & Radio Resource has donated volunteer-produced audio recordings of approximately 30 Dear America titles to the Dallas Public Library system. Thus, young persons with visual or physical impairments preventing them from reading normal print can still experience these fine books. (To learn more about Reading & Radio Resource’s many services and volunteer opportunities, visit www.readingresource.org.)
I now stand happily corrected about the value of historical fiction for young people as both a segue to more “adult” biographies and other general non-fiction, and as rewarding reading experiences all by themselves. Dip your toes into these series’ waters, and enjoy the ride.