Book Club: Do you remember your favorite book from childhood? The Dear America Series lives rent free in my heart

Do you remember your favorite book from childhood?

It's difficult for me to choose a favorite book, but I do have amazing memories from a favorite series.

Back when I was nine years old, the girls in my class were toting these gorgeously bound books complete with classical portraits, elegant fonts, and ribbon bookmarks. When I asked what they were reading, one girl told me, “Dear America. It’s historical fiction, so the stories aren’t real, but the history is.”

Standing in the Light by Mary Pope Osborne

As soon as our school book fair opened, I bought my very first copy: Standing in the Light, the Captive Diary of Catherine Carey Logan.

It was my favorite color with a matching ribbon bookmark, a beautiful portrait, and fancy lettering.

This book was the start of my interest in historical fiction and history in general. I did not always enjoy history because there was a time when African American history was limited to slim little columns or paragraphs in our history books.

The focus for history in school was always on the wealthy leaders and people in power: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson, just to name a few. Even if some of them came from humble beginnings, the stories were of those of both new and old money, kings and queens.

Dear America featured stories from the points of view of the working poor, farmers, women, African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrant laborers.

About Dear America

Some of the many volumes I own, all in chronological order.

The Dear America series is aimed primarily at young readers. Each book is presented in the form of a fictional diary or journal, written by a young protagonist living during a significant period in history.

The first book in the Dear America series, A Journey to the New World, was published in 1996. It was followed by numerous other titles, with each book featuring a different character and setting, covering a wide range of historical periods such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, and the Great Depression, among others. Some of my favorite books in the series covered American Slavery, the Great Migration, the Mexican-American War, Jewish Immigration, and the Salem Witch Trials.

The series was created by children’s book editor and author Jeanne DuPrau, who worked with a team of writers to develop the books. The series aims to educate young readers about history in an engaging and relatable manner, offering insights into the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of young people during pivotal moments in the past.

In addition to the original Dear America series, there have been spin-off series, such as My Name Is America, which features male protagonists, and the Royal Diaries, which focuses on the lives of young royal women throughout history. I read quite a few of those as well with my favorites being The Journal of Biddy Owens: The Negro Leagues, Lady of Ch’iao Kuo: Red Bird of the South, Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile, and Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba.

Diverse Representation

What I loved about the series growing up was its fairly diverse cast of protagonists at the time. Renowned children’s book authors Patricia C. McKissack and Joyce Hansen wrote the books featuring African American protagonists.

I am currently rereading my collection in chronological order. Right now, I am halfway through Look to the Hills, The Diary of Lozette Moreau, a French Slave Girl. She is the slave of a French noblewoman Marie-Louise Boyer, bought to be her “companion.” When Mistress Boyer takes her abroad to America to look for her missing brother, Lozette begins to long for freedom, admiring and envying the lives of the Native Americans and European expatriates that live with them.

My favorite books from the series:

I loved most of the books I read in the series, but I remember thoroughly enjoying these six when I was a kid: Standing in the Light, Valley of the Moon, I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly, Dreams in the Golden Country, One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping, and My Secret War.

The time periods I was drawn to the most were those dealing with the Colonial Period, Indigenous Americans, Post Civil War, and World War Two.


Most of my Dear America collection.

Having grown up in New York City, I was fortunate to have a well-rounded education when it came to history. It wasn’t perfect, but my teachers did highlight basic historical events. However, what helped to fill in many of the gaps in my elementary and middle school years was the Dear America series.

Now that I am older and wiser, I see these books as a fantastic introduction to history for children. Although the events described are fairly toned down for a young audience, it makes sense that the protagonists would have some degree of ignorance toward what was going on around them since most of them are between the ages of eleven and thirteen with limited knowledge of current events.

However, each character goes through a period where they question the people and situations that shape their world, and undergo a quest (physical and/or mental) to make sense of their world and seek some degree of closure.

American history is all about the lack of closure, for we have made some amazing accomplishments, but often through vile means. This series opened the historical doors for me by encouraging me to look deeper at both our strengths and our flaws.

I ended up reading what are, in my humble opinion, some of the best American history books: African Founders by David Hackett Fischer, A People’s History of the American Revolution by Howard Zinn, and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.


The Dear America Series receives a 5/5.

This series receives a 5/5. Nostalgia aside, these books are charming and artistic. Each story is uniquely thought out and covers both major and minor events in history that are not always taught in the classroom.

At the end of each book is a section that provides contexts for the time period the protagonist lives in; maps, recipes, paintings, and other excerpts of primary and secondary sources are presented at the end after the epilogue. When I was a kid, I often read this section first to help me understand the story.

Many of the books are also written by different authors, allowing for a uniquely different voice for each character writing in her diary. Not all of the protagonists are supposed to even have a diary, adding to the suspense at the possibility of being caught. For example, slaves are not supposed to know how to read and write and be in possession of books; some of girls that come from religious families are looked down upon or even seen as witches if they are too educated.

The older books are bound beautifully with those iconic satin ribbons. I miss the oil paintings on the front covers, but I understand that the newer editions of Dear America have been illustrated to appeal to today’s audience.

I would like to see, however, more stories featuring Asian Americans and Polynesian Americans. Although My Name Is America features Asian protagonists Wong Ming-Chung (a Chinese miner) and Ben Uchida (a boy forced into a Japanese internment camp), it would be nice to see an Asian or Polynesian protagonist in the Dear America series. They could have written about Japanese Internment camps and their work in Hawaii in sugarcane fields. They could have also written about Hawaii during the Spanish-American War.

Similar Books

The Dear America Series

My Name Is America Series

Royal Diaries

Some of my favorite history books

African Founders by David Hackett Fischer

A People’s History of the American Revolution by Howard Zinn

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

What do you think about the Dear America series? If you’ve never read them, do you remember your favorite book from childhood? Tell us in the comments below!

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  1. WOW!! I actually was in high school when these were being published so I had never heard of them until now – but I REALLY wish they had been out when I was a young reader! I’m absolutely going to get these from the library now, and will no doubt be buying them as gifts for the kids of friends. What a wonderful series!

    One of my very favorite books as a young girl was The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi. It’s the story of a young lady passenger on a sailing ship who ends up taking part in the crew’s mutiny and discovering that she’s happier with the freedom of dressing as a boy and working instead of being a pampered rich miss. I still own it and love the struggle she goes through when she realizes that the wealthy, noble captain is a terrible man, and the rough, uneducated sailors are truly good people.

    1. I remember seeing that book all the time in my school library, but I never read it. Since I’m revisiting books, I’m going to add that one to my list! I’m glad I piqued your interest in the Dear America books. They’re a good read even for adults. 😀

  2. This sounds like a great series; I like books that talk about everyday people. They are the people who do the work and raise families. They are important!

    1. Agreed! And their lives are more interesting!

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