Okay, so this isn’t recommending a book so much as it is recommending a series. I was in 5th grade when I first discovered this series, and I still think that it’s great.
The series is the Dear America books. The overall gist of the books is this:
First of all, they’re written in a diary format, so that means first person POV. Some people don’t like that, but I think that it works here.
Second, all of the books deal with some pivotal period in American history. (I’ve also discovered that there’s a Dear Canada series, chronicling Canadian history) Some of the topics are obvious: the Civil War, the world wars,the Revolution, etc. However, there are other topics, too: the Great Fire of Chicago, the Titanic, the working conditions children faced in the factories and mills, the dust bowl, the Women’s Rights movement. The list goes on.
And I’ll put a fairly complete list at the end of this post.
However, the great thing about these books is that they don’t focus on the event completely. There’s a story, unique to each narrator, and the books focus more on how the girls deal with their problems during the issues, rather than just the issues themselves. It makes the books feel more personal, more like the diaries they’re supposed to be. And it makes it easier for children to grasp. I don’t expect an 11-year-old to be able to fully grasp the overwhelming tragedy of the Titanic disaster or to understand the hysteria and paranoia that fueled the Salem Witch Trials. But they’re given a “protagonist” to care about and they’re introduced to these monumental moments in history through the eyes of someone close to their own age.
Ages: It’s actually a bit difficult to say,since the series covers such a wide array of topics. Though, overall, I’d say no younger than 9 or 10, but there’s going to have to be some discretion used. Some installments are a little more… “benign” than others. In one book, the protagonist is a 13-year-old child bride to a man who already has 3 children. I would certainly recommend that for the slightly older range. The Salem Witch Trials, the Spanish Influenza, and perhaps the one on the Vietnam war, also, should be left to the older range as well. It really is sort of a matter of discretion, when the range of topics is so broad.
I sort of consider these as slightly older variations of the American Girl series. Chances are if someone liked those books, they’ll probably like these.
There’s also two “off-shoot” series from the Dear America books: The Royal Diaries, which deals with, as the name implies, the lives of real-life princess. Included in the series: Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette, Anastasia, Kazunomiya (A Japanese princess), Cleopatra VII, and more that I can’t think of at the moment. There’s also the My Name is America series, which is identical to Dear America, except that the narrators are all boys. Again, discretion with ages, but no earlier than 10.
My personal favorite of the America series has to be Standing in the Light, which is the diary of a young Puritan girl who is captured by Lenape Indians in retaliation for the deaths of several of the tribe’s own children. It really is an excellent read, but it is heartbreaking. As for the Royal series, I’ve always been partial to the Tudor period of English history, so I would definitely recommend the one on Mary I and Elizabeth I.
Also, it should be noted that all of these books are by different authors, so the writing styles will vary some.
Here is a fairly complete list of the Dear America titles. I’ve put the title and the time period or subject that they deal with. No, this list isn’t complete, but I think I got a lot of them. I actually found some I didn’t know existed…
Voyage on the Great Titanic (Titanic)
Down the Rabbit Hole (Great Fire of Chicago)
Cannons at Dawn (American Revolution)
Winter of Red Snow (American Revolution)
Journey to the New World (Mayflower Voyage)
Standing in the Light (Quakers and Delaware Indian tribes (Lenape))
Like the Willow Tree (Spanish Influenza)
I Walk in Dread (Salem Witch Trials)
A City Tossed and Broken (San Francisco earthquake, 1906)
Behind the Masks (California Gold Rush)
With the Might of Angels (post Brown v. Board of Education)
Hear My Sorrow (Triangle Factory Fire and labor movement)
The Fences Between Us (beginning of WWII in the US, Japanese incarceration during WWII)
Christmas After All (Great Depression)
A Picture of Freedom (Slavery)
I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly (Post abolition of slavery)
A Light in the Storm (Civil War)
Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie (The Oregon Trail)
When Will This Cruel War be Over? (Civil War)
A Time for Courage (Women’s Rights movement)
Look to the Hills (slavery)
My Secret War (WWII)
A Coal Miner’s Bride (Coal mining, arranged marriage, 1896)
A Line in the Sand (The Alamo)
Early Sunday Morning (Pearl Harbor)
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall (Perkins School for the Blind)
My Heart is on the Ground (Sioux and the Carlisle Indian School)
When Christmas Comes Again (WWI)
The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow (Navajo)
Whispers of War (War of 1812)
Survival in the Storm (The Dust Bowl)
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (Vietnam War)
So Far from Home (Textile Mills, 1847)
Love Thy Neighbor (American Revolution, told from a Pro-British perspective)
All the Stars in the Sky (Santa Fe Trail)
Most can be found on Amazon, either in traditional format, or as kindle editions.