Things in Print Thursday :: my childhood with historical fiction, part two

25 Sep

Namely, Dear America books and their Royal Diaries cousins.

I was in third grade, I think, when I read my first Dear America book, checked it out from the school library.  Predictably it was the one about Hattie something or other the pioneer girl on the Oregon Trail, Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie I think, because I live in Oregon and liked reading about Oregon and was already inclined to pioneers because my American Girl doll was Kirsten.  I also remember that my best friend checked out the one about the Italian-American girl who was going… somewhere on a train in the 1800s and I think her friend died.  (The best friends died a lot in these books, now that I think about it.)

And I don’t know, it’s not like these had to be a completist thing.  None of the books had anything to do with each other.  (I think some of the later ones might have vaguely mentioned people from other ones, but I don’t remember.)  But I read a lot of books when I was a kid, so I wound up reading… every single one of these.  Buying them the weekend they were released and whatnot.

When I was in fourth grade, I distinctly remember carrying a box to school with every single one of these books in it, because the school library was insufficient, apparently; I used to lend them out to my friends because apparently I was already a budding librarian subconsciously.  I also remember that in the fourth grade when we did our Oregon Trail unit I… pretty much completely plagiarized the relevant Dear America book.  Eh.  It was different enough, I suppose.

I kept reading these probably much longer than I was supposed to, because they were fascinating.  They covered the basic historic periods but they also covered these neat niches that you never learned about in school, or at least that I didn’t learn about in school (the forced boarding schools for Native Americans in the 1800s, for example, or that one about the trains was pretty obscure).  I also appreciated that the books were about characters from a variety of social and racial backgrounds.  Furthermore, the Royal Diaries covered monarchs from a very wide variety of cultures that I definitely never learned about in history classes, and that was great.

Recreational reading is magical.  Wanting to learn about things is magical.  Anyway.

Dear America also had a reboot recently, though I don’t know hardly anything about it, but more important is that it also had a computer game.  You didn’t play as anyone but you played interactive games of a bunch of silly late 90s/early 00s varieties like “find the object on the digitized landscapes” or “answer vaguely relevant questions in your own digital journal while a digitized portrait talks to you.”  There were six of the characters, I believe it was the aforementioned Hattie, Mem who was a Pilgrim (and played by Alison Pill in the TV short movie), Clotee who was a slave, Margaret who was on the Titanic, Zippy who was a Jewish girl in the 1900s who wanted to be an actress, Abigail from the Revolutionary War.  And best yet, when you installed the game it also installed the special fonts that each girl “wrote” in on your computer.  (This is why this game was installed on many of my computers long after I played it.)

And anyway.  I was just very passionate about these books and their variety and their stories and the perspectives they gave, and there’s not much point to this post other than that.

–your fangirl heroine.

oh my gods stop


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