In my opinion, the best Dear America out there.
A Coal Miner’s Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska, Lattimer, Pennsylvania, 1896.
This is a book near and dear to my own heart as a Polish girl, and it’s one of the few DA novels with an older protagonist and a love story that isn’t a complete horrorshow. The historical incident that it deals with is pretty, uh, incidental—it’s a mine strike in the Lattimer coal mines, and it takes place pretty near the end of the book. The bulk of the novel focuses on Anetka coming to America and adapting to her new life as the wife of a man she barely knows.
Back again to Dear America and one of my very favourites. Unsurprisingly, it is Kathryn Lasky, because she is fantastic, and I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again: she doesn’t get half the credit she deserves.
Book: Dreams in the Golden Country, The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, A Jewish Immigrant: New York City, 1903. Kathryn Lasky, 1998.
Zipporah, called Zippy, is twelve years old and sitting on a trunk in Ellis Island when we meet her. Tired and dirty, they have just arrived from their steamship voyage and are waiting in many of the endless lines to be “processed.” (Immigration: miserable in every age!) Zippy has two older sisters, Tovah and Miriam, and they are traveling with their mother to meet their father, who has been living in New York trying to afford their passage.
Zippy and her family are all tired and miserable, except for Tovah, the oldest sister, who has been running around learning things from the other travelers. She tells them that Jewish women in New York wear their own hair, not wigs, and Zippy thinks to herself that Tovah is a bit of a know-it-all and irritating smarty-pants. But Tovah is the one who saves her—when Zippy gets tagged with an E for having red eyes from irritation, Tovah turns her coat inside out and the family are all processed together.
I have to cleanse my palate with something not horrifyingly bad after the past couple of books, so I thought I would go with a much-beloved classic Dear America instead.
Book: A Journey to the New World, The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple: Mayflower, 1620, Kathryn Lasky, 1996.
Kathryn Lasky is one of my favourite Dear America authors, and this is the very first book published in the series and an awesome kickoff. Basically all American schoolkids grow up with the story of the Pilgrims, as flawed and full of holes as it is, and this is an interesting introduction to how, you know, there’s More To The Story than that. I also must confess that this book came out right around the time I was in Grade 4 and we did a unit on the Pilgrims and we all got “Pilgrim names” and referred to each other by those names for like, three months, and this book was like my Bible at that point.
Remember, or Mem as she is called, is twelve years old and going to the New World with her mother and father and baby sister, Blessing. They’re all “Saints,” or members of a church in religious revolt from King James, but the most important thing in the first couple of pages is that Mem and everyone else is just sick as a dog and vomiting copiously. Ah, truth in history. Continue reading
For this one, I wanted to find something truly egregious, a real example of the trash that was published in the 90s, and this absolutely did not disappoint.
The Book: Bridie of the Wild Rose Inn, by Jennifer Armstrong, 1994. It’s one of those books where the cover tells you exactly how bad it’s going to be. “Includes your own elegant rose stencil,” the cover says! I got these books secondhand so sadly there were no elegant rose stencils there for me, but oh, how I wish there was. I would have stenciled the crap out of my dresser.
So, the plot of this book is that “spirited Bridie,” a Scottish girl, has been waiting for a decade in Scotland to join her parents, who are living in Massachusetts Bay Colony and became Puritans. It involves witchcraft. You’re going to love it.