My Heart Is On The Ground

Can you believe I’ve reviewed almost every book in the Dear America series? Unfortunately that means we’re down to the books I didn’t like all that much. Or, in the case of this one, the books that were a complete waste of paper and ink. Oh yeah. Strong words for a DA book! That’s because it’s horrifyingly bad!

My Heart Is On The Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, A Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880, Ann Rinaldi, 1999.


Oh boy. I might as well start off by linking to a much better review that points out the millions of things wrong with this book: besides the numerous factual errors, like the fact that a girl from this specific nation would have never described herself as Sioux (way to put that on the COVER), the fact that Captain Pratt is treated as a model of reason in the book, while in real life he was a bully and an autocrat who tried to beat the Indian out of the students at the Carlisle Indian School. Well. Anyway, just go read this, it’s going to point out that fifty bajillion factual errors, while I’m going to focus on everything that’s wrong with the book from a literary standpoint. Spoiler: IT’S A LOT. Ann Rinaldi wrote this book! What the hell?

Nannie is a Lakota girl sent to the Carlisle Indian School with her brother, Conrad, in order to learn the “white man’s ways” and “bring honor” to her people. I know. It’s already awful. Stay with me. If you wanted to read an accurate and well-written book about Lakota girls growing up, you should have picked a better one. This is one of those books where the premise is “someone who doesn’t write English learns to do it better.” The same thing is done in Dreams of the Golden Country, except better. All of this is done in terrible stereotypical English, where she calls her diary “talking leaves” before she learns the word “die-eerie,” and I’ll point out that no one says “diary” like that, and also that’s not at all a phonetic spelling.

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Do you remember the first and third books I recapped in this series last year? They were pretty bad. (You could have probably figured that out.) The second one is oddly hard to lay my hands on, although I remember enjoying it more than the others when I read it. Maybe other people thought the same thing, which is why it’s hard to find now? No, we should be so lucky.

Carrie: Heart of Courage, Cameron Dokey, 1998.


This is a book about the Chicago fire of 1871, which confused me a lot when I looked at the book for the first time because the hat Carrie is wearing on the cover is supposed to be a fancy summer hat, but looks more like a cowboy hat from a strange angle. Doesn’t it? Yes, it’s being held onto her head with a pink sash and she’s wearing a party dress, but I can’t be responsible for my initial impressions of the cover.

The whole first bit of this book is mostly Carrie whining about how she’s a shy, terrified little flower and her whole family is full of “strong Kelly women”—her great-grandmother participated in the Boston Tea Party, her grandmother was kidnapped and almost was caught in the burning of Washington in 1812, her mother traveled halfway across the world, and her older sister is an ardent suffragette. It’s not pointed out until much later in this book that excepting her sister, none of those women were Kellys by birth, so it should probably be just “strong women.” Anyway, Carrie’s trying to break out of her shell by going to a suffragette rally with her annoying friend Jessica, who’s telling her the whole time that she’s afraid of everything and paranoid. You know, given everything that happens to Carrie in this book, she is kind of right to be worried about stuff.

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Young Nanny

I am so ludicrously excited about this I cannot wait one more week! I have finally gotten my hands onto a copy of a My Story book, which are the UK versions of the Dear America/Dear Canada books, and this one—believe it!—is by Frances Mary Hendry! Who wrote Quest for a Maid! Yes!!!!!

Young Nanny: A Victorian Girl’s Diary, 1850, Frances Mary Hendry, 2001.

young nanny.jpg

Also, in the UK this book was £6.99 and buy-one-get-one-free, which I would have definitely taken up on, but somehow at some point in its life wound up in a Goodwill with a blue sticker for 50 cents. Where do I find this magical Goodwill that has all these historical children and young adult books? I need to go there. Every time I’m at a Goodwill it’s 99% weird cookbooks (Cooking with Spiders and Other Insect Parts and Meat: Boil It To Death!) and those romance novels with the white covers with the picture in the middle that are all called, like, The Cowboy’s Baby and Cowboys Home for Christmas because who even knows. And 1% child-raising books from 1985.

Anyway, one of the things that I love the most about this book (and Hendry in general) is that her characters are completely believable as really being in the times they’re set in. Lily, the young nanny of the title and our heroine, is a maid in the home of Joseph Paxton, the brains behind the Crystal Palace of the Exhibition in 1851. Her biggest goal in life is to be Housekeeper at Chatsworth, which is a huge deal—Chatsworth is an enormous and stately home, and housekeeper was basically the head of all the female servants in the house (which in a place like Chatsworth would number into the hundreds). So Lily has ambitions, but they’re totally appropriate for a young servant in 1850. I mean, it’s not like “she wants to go to college and become the first female PM,” because that’s just not realistic for the time. But Lily is determined, and consequently does her best to be the best housemaid she can possibly be.

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Graves of Ice

I’ve had this blog for two years and I haven’t even touched a book out of this series yet! What’s wrong with me? (I was convinced these books are boring, that’s what.)

Graves Of Ice: The Lost Franklin Expedition, George Chambers, The Northwest Passage, 1845¸John Wilson, 2014.

george chambers.jpg

Side note: if you can get through this whole review without getting Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage stuck in your head, you’re a better person than I am. I spent two days reading this book and fully ¾ of that time I spent trying to remember the words to the world’s most mournful song after The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which coincidentally is also about shipwrecks.

Anyway, I have been avoiding the I Am Canada series because I was convinced they were boring, but this one was not! And to be honest the only reason I picked it is because it’s actually already out of date. The two ships involved, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror have been located in the Arctic (the Terror just this year!), exactly where Inuit hunters had been telling the idiot white people to go and look for them. (This is true, by the way.) So while the expedition was lost in the sense that everyone died, the remains of their ships and many of the crew members have been located. So now I suppose it’s the “doomed” Franklin Expedition? Is that better?

Also I have to note here as well that I feel like Terror is a horrible name for a ship bound to be on an expedition to a terrifying land where there’s every chance that everyone will die. I wouldn’t get on it.

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Elisabeth: The Princess Bride

Fine. I’ll review this, but I won’t like it, and I’ll complain about it the entire time, because apparently What A Waste Of Potential is my biggest problem. Too bad I am not a teacher and can’t torture children by going on at length about their wasted potential, like I can with this book!

Elisabeth: The Princess Bride, Austria-Hungary, 1853, Barry Denenberg, 2003.


First of all, the illustration on this cover is awful. Elisabeth, or Sisi, really was a famously beautiful woman, and the existing photographs of her show this! Why is the painting of her on the cover making her look like a disgruntled schoolteacher who resembles her own horse? Especially since practically this entire book and almost all of Sisi’s social capital rested on how beautiful she was! Seriously!

Second of all: This book is impossibly short! It clocks in at just ninety pages of story! You can’t tell me that Laurence Yep got approval to write an incredibly long story about Lady Xian, but Barry Denenberg got only ninety pages to blow through a story about a misunderstood monarch who is a bang-on perfect subject for a YA novel about royals? She literally has everything: incredibly difficult expectations placed on her without the framework to deal with them, a whirlwind mistake romance, anorexia and stress disorders, and the unreasonable expectations of beauty and femininity! This is tailor-made for a really good YA novel and THIS is not it. I should write it, I’d do a better job.

We open the book in July at Possenhofen, Sisi’s childhood home, where her older sister Helene is being summoned to Vienna by their aunt Sophie–the Archduchess of Austria and mother of Franz Joseph, the Austrian emperor. Now, Helene has long been picked out at Franz Joseph’s eventual bride, and their mother is dead-set on this, and her father doesn’t give a crap. I get a very strong Mr. Bennet vibe off of Sisi’s father–he doesn’t seem to care too much about his children’s futures, and is more concerned with dicking around at home. But as usual, we are expected to think that Sisi’s mother is awful and controlling for wanting to arrange her daughters well, and Sisi’s father is wonderful because he’s so indulgent. I already hate this book.

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Oh my God, this book is awful. It’s so atrocious.

Do I really have to go into more detail than that? OK. But you will regret it. (Or if you are awful like me, you will enjoy the evisceration of a book.)

Megan, Vivian Schurfranz, 1986.


I thought I had read every Sunfire novel before, but this one must have escaped me or not been part of my library’s collection or something. I know for sure I would have read it if I had had access to it, because the girl on the cover is wearing an enormous white fur hood and I would have been There For That at age 13 or whatever.

The basic premise of this book is “1980s girl transported back in time to 1860s.” OK, that’s not the actual premise, but it may as well be, because everyone in this book would be exactly at home in 1986, the publication date, and no one acts anything like someone in 1867 should act. Not one person. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so awful. We will start with the name Megan, which was not at all common ANYWHERE in the 1850s, partially because it was a nickname for Margaret for the longest time and partially because it just wasn’t popular. You know when it WAS popular? THE 1980S. I had a quick browse through some data that covered about 90,000 women’s names in the 1850s, and you know what was on there in the top 700 names? Besides the obvious ones? Permelia, Sophronia, Jerusha, Melvina, and Hulda. You know what WASN’T? MEGAN.

Okay, the actual premise of this book, apart from being an excuse for me to complain, is that Megan is the daughter of a man who has been sent to Alaska immediately following the Alaska Purchase in order to be the government liaison for the United States there. So he is a bureaucrat, basically, but it specifically says on the back cover that Megan “gives up a life of luxury in Washington, D.C.,” which is great except no one in her family actually acts like it. In one of the worst cases of “sure, whatever, it’s fine” that I have EVER seen, Megan’s mom is A NURSE. A nurse who WORKS OUTSIDE THE HOME. Oh my god. Nurses in the 1860s who weren’t battlefield nurses were definitely lower-class and poor women who didn’t have any other way to feed their families, and there weren’t even any nursing colleges until the 1880s! Nursing was a low-class, low-status job, and the wife of a Washington DC bureaucrat WOULD NOT HAVE WORKED ANYWAY. She just wouldn’t have. There is no way around this. This is the epitome of one of those books that says way more about the time it was written in than in the time it’s set.

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The Hired Girl

I don’t usually review new books here, but I’m going to do this one now because I thought it was fantastic, and hey, things are slow right now, so why not?

The Hired Girl, Laura Amy Schlitz, 2015.

the hired girl

Now, I’m not going to recap this one, since it’s so new I don’t want to give away any of the details, but I’m going to do a short review of it in general. Laura Amy Schlitz won the Newbery Medal for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! and a Newbery Honor for Splendors and Glooms, so her pedigree is already fairly well established, but The Hired Girl is a bit of a departure from all this. It’s set in 1911, and it’s targeted at the 11-14 age group, but it plays pretty heavily on some themes in literature and art that may go over the heads of younger readers. But for someone like me, reading it as an adult, it’s fascinatingly well-done, though I don’t know how I would have taken it as a 13-year-old.

Joan Skraggs, the titular hired girl, is a fourteen-year-old girl in Pennsylvania, living with her semi-abusive father and three sloppy older brothers, none of whom respect her. She’s been doing the household work since her mother’s death years ago, and she’s exhausted from doing a ridiculous amount of heavy labour by herself without any sort of compensation or a kind word from anyone. She’s had to drop out of school, and finds solace in reading her three books over and over again. When her father burns her books, Joan decides that’s the last straw, and takes the little bit of money her mother left her in secret and runs away to Baltimore to become a hired maid at six dollars a week.

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Days Of Toil And Tears

Let’s return to Dear Canada. I have some well-deserved gushing to do over this book, especially since the author (the incomparable Sarah Ellis) had the amazing Joy Parr help with the historical detail—Joy Parr is one of the absolute leading lights of Canadian children’s history, and I relied very very very heavily on her books during some portions of my Master’s thesis. She’s amazing, Sarah Ellis is amazing, this book is amazing, let’s carry on.

Days Of Toil And Tears: The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, Almonte, Ontario, 1887, Sarah Ellis, 2008.

flora rutherford

I’ve mentioned before how Dear America and Dear Canada take the same events or time periods in history and look at them from different points of view, which I think is an awesome trend and one that would be terrific to include in a school lesson (the Revolutionary War books are particularly interesting for this, but there’s also Japanese internment and Western immigration). This would then be the counterpart to Barry Denenberg’s atrocious So Far From Home. Where that is kitschy and relies heavily on a weird voice and has extremely little detail, Sarah Ellis’s book is so bursting over with detail and intelligent characterization that it’s a totally different experience. Also notable is that this is one of the few children’s books I’ve come across that doesn’t commit the sin of presentism, which I’ll get into during the meat of the review, but Flora is thoroughly realistic as an eleven-year-old in 1887. She doesn’t act, think, or behave like a girl from 2015 transported back in time—it’s very refreshing and I wish all books could pull this off so seamlessly.

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Nell’s Quilt

Here’s an interesting and fairly little-known novel that was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

Book: Nell’s Quilt, Susan Terris, 1996.

nells quilt

This book always left me feeling distinctly unsettled when I read it as a teenager and for that reason it wasn’t exactly on my favourites list. It’s a weird hybrid of a historical fiction novel about a girl chafing against societal expectations, and a novel about anorexia. There’s quite a bit of scholarly work done on the topic of girls and women in the Victorian era starving themselves, but it’s more closely related to theories on control and power dynamics than to body image. I do realize that modern anorexia is also very closely related to those things, but the body image thing is significantly a greater factor than in the Victorian period. Let’s dive in.

Nell is eighteen, and her parents have just informed her that her father’s second cousin Anson Tanner has proposed to her. Nell is staunchly opposed to this—she would rather move to Boston and “help people” as her grandmother did, who was a campaigner for women’s rights. Her mother points out gently that her grandmother’s money is gone and she can’t afford to do so, and her younger sister Eliza says that if she marries Anson the whole family will do much better. “I could not believe my ears. Was this truly 1899, only ten months shy of the beginning of the twentieth century? Or had I been catapulted back into the Middle Ages?” Okay, while I understand what they’re driving at here, 1899 wasn’t exactly the modern era we know and love today. Nell’s total shock at this announcement is a little out of place.

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