As a budding history nerd and confirmed bookworm, little Sunflower Michelle read (in this relative order):
–a series of paperback (I remember the covers were blue) biographies of historical figures. There was JFK, from boy to man. Abraham Lincoln. Washington. Martin Luther King, Jr. Benjamin Franklin. What the hell was the name of that series anyway? And where did these books go in my life?
—The Baby-Sitters’ Club. Oh, my, but I was really into the Baby-Sitters’ Club. (These either went to my younger cousin or to someone in Japan)
–The American Girls books. They were the first ones I read with historical notes in the back matter and it made my little nerdy heart sing. (These definitely went to someone in Japan)
And then, The Joy Luck Club. And then something from Harlequin. And then something from Readers’ Digest that I think was true crime and was probably not meant for me to read at age eleven…
-And the Dear America series, which I think I started reading around 11 or 12 years old. They were hardcover books and the idea was that they were the diaries of (usually) young girls who were supposed to be around that preteen to adolescent age.
Each diary keeper was living through a historical period or movement, whether it was Remember Patience Whipple arriving on the Mayflower, Margaret Ann Brady on the Titanic (and if you knew me at that age, I was obessed with the Titanic), Amber Billows witnessing Pearl Harbor…with a historical note at the back!
(I love historical notes. Can I just write those?)
There was also a companion series called the Royal Diaries, fictional diaries of real life princesses, and another companion series of journals written by fictional historical boys called My Name Is America. But unlike the other books I’d read growing up, I’ve kept Royal Diaries and Dear America in my closet since I took them off my bookshelf sometime in high school. I needed space for the mass market romance novels and Phillipa Gregory novels I was reading then. But they’ve stayed in my closet all these years.
Well, they’re coming out this year. Niece #1 is turning 9 in two weeks and happily, she’s become a bit of a bookworm, so I’m going to give her two of the Dear America books and see if she likes them. I’m not sure if she’s destined to be a history nerd necessarily, but she doesn’t find history icky, so now’s the time to infect her.
But as I was taking two of the books off the highest shelf in my closet, it occurred to me how many of those stories stayed with me in some ways because they were the first (and sometimes, the only) time I encountered those topics, eras, events in books i.e., these were not things I learned about in social studies class.
I remember a book about the Indian schools, where Native American children were taken from their tribes and families, sent to boarding school, and made to be white. They weren’t allowed to speak their natives language, wear native dress, observe native customs.
The Chicago Race Riots of 1919.
Princess Kaiulani of Hawaii. Hadn’t heard of her until I got my hands on her fictional diary.
Japanese internment–I didn’t know Japanese people on the West Coast were interned from 1942 until I read one of the My Name is America books.
So, at the very least, I hope Niece #1 likes the books and remembers some parts of them when she’s older and has to take her New York State mandated social studies Regents exams.