In 1996, Scholastic launched a series of hardcover middle-grade historical novels all written in diary format, complete with a little ribbon bookmark. These diaries told the stories of girls in various times and places in US history and were written by several different authors who each brought their own unique styles. The series was called Dear America, and it was juvenile historical fiction at its most basic and, sometimes, most intriguing.
The first of these books was by Kathryn Lasky, Journey to a New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower 1620. Appropriate start to a series designed to capture the scope of American history, no? From there, it would be easy to just hit the high points of American history: the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the Great Depression, maybe throw in some pioneers. In thirty-six books, though, Scholastic encompassed much more than that. Sure, there are books set in those times–multiple books, in fact, in order to give different perspectives on the same events. But there are also Dear America books in the early textile factories of New England, about Jewish refugees in World War II, on the Oregon and Santa Fe trails, in the Dust Bowl, and at the Perkins School for the Blind. Even though the diary format is consistant, the characters, stories, and settings are quite unique.
Like any successful series, Dear America has its share of spin-offs, many of which I have enjoyed. My Name is America follows much the same format, only the diarists are teen boys, often soldiers in the wars where the girls of Dear America keep the homefires burning. The Royal Diaries are fictionalized childhood accounts of real-life royalty throughout history, including Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I, and Cleopatra. My America takes this format down from the middle grade to chapter book level. And some of my favorites of all these books have been Dear Canada, which are still publishing new books, including one earlier this year featuring a British evacuee (which I may just have to pick up).
Scholastic ended its Dear America run in 2004. Fortunately for those of us who live on historical fiction, that is not the end of the story. This month, Kirby Larson’s The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis re-launches the series, which will give updated packaging to some old favorites along with Kirby’s brand-new contribution. Scholastic’s new and improved website, www.scholastic.com/dearamerica, has more details and lots of fun ways to get into this great series. And stay tuned week after next, when Tricia gets to review the new book, interview Kirby, and give away her ARC to one lucky Damsels reader.