Literature / Dear America

Dear America is a series of historical novels for older girls published by Scholastic. The series was originally canceled in 2004 after its thirty-sixth book but was relaunched in September 2010 with a new book and re-releases of three older books. Since the relaunch three new titles (one being a sequel) have come out and some of the older books have gotten new re-releases.

It inspired three spin-off series in the US:
  • My Name Is America: Dear America's Spear Counterpart.
  • My America: A series of trilogies focusing on younger characters.
  • The Royal Diaries: Fictional diaries of various historical royal women as girls.

There were also versions produced by several of Scholastic's international branches (see Dear Canada), and an HBO miniseries.

Each book is written in the form of a diary of a young woman's life during an important event or time period in American history, ranging from as early as the voyage of the Mayflower to as recent as the Vietnam War.

Here's the official site.

Compare to American Girl, another series of historical fiction books starring young girls, aimed at a younger demographic.


Provides Examples Of:

  • Abusive Parents: Though not common in the early books, some later protagonists have these or abusive guardians. Deliverance Trembley has her uncle, and Pringle Rose has her aunt and uncle.
    • Although they are not guardians per se, the slave owners in Clotee and Patsy's stories are this by default. To the series' credit though, the Henleys of Clotee's book are not nearly as abusive as they could be. The Davises, from Patsy's book, are more difficult to get along with than actively abusive.
  • Academic Athlete: The book With The Might of Angels has Dawnie who has the highest grades in the elementary division of her school but more than anything she wants to be part of the All-American Girls Baseball League.
    • Max, Julie Weiss's brother from One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, skipped a grade, reads Rilke, attended Vienna University, takes fencing lessons, and plays on a Zionist soccer team.
    • Kat from A Time For Courage is a hockey player that struggles with math and Latin, but really starts improving throughout the story and uses her Latin and readings to make comparisons to gladiator fights and the Suffrage movement.
  • Adult Fear: My Secret War had Maddie coming upon Nazi saboteurs on the beach and later being stalked by them, a car even tried to run her over!
  • Affectionate Nickname: Some of the girls have these:
    • Zipporah Feldman (Zippy)
    • Lucinda Lawrence (Cinda)
    • Remember Whipple (Mem)
    • Katherine Bowen (Kat)
    • Mem calls her friend Humility Sawyer "Hummy."
    • Zipporah Feldman's mom has Yiddish "baby names" for all three of her girls. Tovah is Tovala, Miriam is Mirmela, and Zipporah is Zippola. Zipporah's dad also calls her his "little potato angel" because he used to call her "little doll," until she said she'd rather be called a potato.
  • Alpha Bitch: The Star Points in My Secret War, they are made up of vapid girls whom care about being pretty and stylish.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Green from A Line in the Sand spends half of his time mouthing off.
    • Other examples include Teresa's sister Netta from West to a Land of Plenty, Grace's sister Ruth from Survival in the Storm, Libby's brother Joe from The Great Railroad Race, and Polly's half sister Laura in Land of the Buffalo Bones. Chances are, if the main character has a younger sibling, they are going to be this.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Molly Flaherty gives her uncle one in Where Have all the Flowers Gone. Upon hearing him make remarks against blacks at a New Year's Eve party, she asks, alluding to his career as a fireman, what color the two little kids he recently saved from a burning apartment were. He replies they were black, so Molly asks, "If you had known that before, would you have gone in there?"
  • Arranged Marriage: In A Coal Miner's Bride Anetka's hand in marriage was promised by her father to a acquittance in exchange for tickets to bring her and her younger brother to America from Poland.
  • Artistic License History: In My Heart is on the Ground,about Nannie Little Rose, a Lakota Indian girl who is sent to Carlisle Indian Industrial School, an institution (run like a prison) meant to teach Indians to be "white". Firstly, Nannie probably would not have been given a diary in the first place, which discounts the whole book. But, let's say she was. She would not refer to herself as "Sioux", instead she would use her area or band. Rinaldi also gets many Lakota customs wrong, mainly by using American descriptions of them rather than finding out what actually happened. She even makes up the more "Indian" sounding words for Lakota words that already exist, such as "night-middle-made" and "friend-to-go-between-us". Needless to say, actual Lakota were less than pleased.
  • Bookends: "Early Sunday Morning" begins and ends with Amber's father announcing to the family that they will be moving. The first time, Amber notes that she could tell her mother didn't know in advance; the second time, she looks at her mother and can tell that this time she knew.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Some of the books end with this type of ending, with some of the heroine's friends and family dead or missing. The epilogues also count as well.
  • Black Best Friend: In Look to the Hills the main character Zettie, though six years younger, is her mistress's loved and trusted companion.
    • Miz Lilly in A Picture of Freedom invokes this when talking to Clotee, telling her that Clotee's mother, Rissa, was her best friend and made her so many beautiful dresses and she'd be more than happy to have Clotee as a favorite if Clotee would just tattle on the slaves.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: My Heart Is on the Ground
  • Book Ends: The first and last entries in When Will This Cruel War Be Over? both deal with the death of a loved one. In the first entry, it's Emma's older brother Cole, killed in The Civil War. in the last entry, it's her infant cousin Elizabeth, dying of illness. the latter causes her to fully become a Broken Bird.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Julie's Uncle Daniel in One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping counts as he's a Jew that's ashamed of his heritage and converted to Christianity; he thinks Hitler's only after Polish Jews and looks down at them.
  • Continuity Nod: The narrator of Seeds of Hope talks about going to live in Oregon City with their aunt Augusta, uncle Charles and cousins Hattie, Bennie, and Jake Campbell who had traveled out to Oregon by wagon from Missouri. (aka the family of the narrator from Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie. Both books were written by Kristiana Gregory)
    • The narrator of "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" is in the play "When Will This Cruel War Be Over?". Author Barry Denenberg clearly based it on another of his Dear America books.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: In I Walk in Dread, narrator Liv Trembley points out that this is happening during the Salem witch trials.
  • Cool Big Sis: the main characters show elements of this if they have younger siblings, and their older sisters are this as well.
  • Cool Teacher: A lot of the girls have these; in many cases they are the ones who give the protagonists their diaries. They include:
    • Teresa Viscardi's Mrs. Curran
    • Bess Brennan's Ms. Salinger (who offers to write the diary entries for her while she is learning Braille, because Bess is blind)
    • Margaret Ann Brady's teacher Sister Catherine from the Catholic orphanage where she spent a few years after the death of her parents.
    • Believe it or not, Nannie Little Rose of My Heart is on the Ground has one at her Boarding School of Horrors. It's head teacher Mrs. Campbell, who is compassionate toward her students and does not look down on their heritage—at least, not as actively as the other teachers. Sewing teacher Mrs. Monk arguably becomes this, especially after the death of Little Rose's best friend Pretty Eagle.
    • Julie Weiss in One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping has Mrs. Thompson, who meets with Julie to offer help when her grades drop and later announces that her classroom is no place for antisemitism (contrasted with Julie's friend's Sadist Teacher Mr. Erickson who devotes class time to talking about Aryans being superior), and English tutor Miss Sachs, who plays American music as part of lessons.
  • Cool Uncle: Several girls have these, and/or a Cool Aunt who is usually younger and more "with it" than the parents. They include:
    • All three of Nellie Lee and Erma Jean Love's uncles, Pace, Mitchell (Meece) and John Willis. Pace was Erma Jean's favorite until he was tragically killed. Meece is cool by virtue of his job—he owns a Chicago club. John Willis is developmentally disabled but still cool because he plays with his nieces and is able to listen to their problems and respond compassionately.
      • The girls also have a cool Aunt Beth Annie (Thanne) who is an extroverted flapper—a big deal for a conservative family from Tennessee.
    • Zipporah Feldman has her Uncle Schmully, who helps her pursue her dreams of acting.
    • Hattie Campbell has Aunt June, who is her confidante during the trip across the Oregon Trail.
    • Amber Billows's friend Kame, has Miss Kozuke, her maternal aunt, who is very positive and modern, compared to her melancholy, traditional, and Japanese-speaking mother.
    • Uncle Martin in One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping counts as an example that's Promoted To Parent. He makes his niece comfortable and tries to cheer her up and teaches her what a "proper cheesecake" looks like and never to have business lunches. Her Aunt Clara counts as a female example due to her introducing Julie into acting and teaching her everything there is to know.
    • In one aversion, Molly Flaherty has her Uncle Jim, who is a little too attached to his booze and makes racist remarks.
  • Daddy's Girl: In One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping, Julie practically hero-worships her father, while her relationship with her mother is strained.
  • Dead Guy Junior: The epilogues of many books reveal that the narrator named some or all of her children after dead relatives or friends.
    • In Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie, one of the twins born near the end of the journey to Oregon is named after Mrs. Bigg, who drowned a few days earlier during a river crossing.
  • Death by Childbirth: The fate of Julie's Cousin Eva in One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping.
  • Disabled Means Helpless: Averted in Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. Protagonist Bess Brennan has recently gone blind, and so her parents send her to the Perkins School for the Blind in nearby Boston. There, the focus is teaching Bess to cope with blindness in everyday life and educate herself so she can have a meaningful life.
  • Driven to Suicide: Julie's mother in One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping falls into deep depression and kills herself after the Nazi raid on the family home.
    • One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping features several Jewish people being driven to suicide after the Nazis takeover Austria, the most tragic being of a friend of her parents jumping out the hospital window with her newborn baby.
    • Also, in Christmas After All, the father of one of Minnie's classmates shoots himself right as Minnie was arriving at the classmate's birthday party.
  • Downer Ending: Some of the epilogues end with this, especially the book So Far From Home, where in the epilogue it is stated that main character dies a few years later of cholera.
  • Exact Words: In I Walk in Dread, Liv's uncle has gone away looking for work and left her and her sister alone. Since during this era this would be considered improper, but lying is a sin, he coached them in exact words to avoid lying or telling the whole truth if someone asks after him. "No, he didn't tell us when he was coming back." "No, he didn't tell us where he was going." "He was carrying a bag, so he may not be back until tomorrow."
  • Family Theme Naming: The Anderson family from Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie named their first five daughters after trees: Hazel, Holly, Laurel, Olive, and Cassia.
    • In A Coal Miner's Bride, when Anetka meets her three step-daughters-to-be— Violet, Lily, and Rose— she is so taken aback that all she can think to say is 'what a beautiful garden'.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The Dear America series is chock full of Family-Unfriendly Death accurate to the time period of each book. For example, the death of the protagonist's love interest in the Titanic diary, and, more traumatically, the multiple deaths that occur along the journey of a girl taking a wagon train out west (including one death from being swept away while crossing a river, and one brutal Infant Immortality aversion when the protagonist mistakes water hemlock for an edible root and feeds a bit to another young girl while preparing dinner).
    • So Far from Home, the one about Irish immigrant mill workers, includes the hair-caught-in-the-machinery scenario.
  • Fiery Redhead: The main character of A Coal Miner's Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska complains about everything about her looks except her red hair. At one point she suddenly remembered that she was her mother's fiery redhead and started yelling at her ungrateful husband with a list of all the things she does for him.
    • Also Lucinda Lawrence from A Line in the Sand with her Mother, they both have red hair and very strong personalities.
    • Averted with Kat Bowen's cousin Alma in A Time for Courage, who thinks of clever things to say rather than act impulsively like our brunette protagonist.
    • Simone's friend Francie from When Christmas Comes Again is a straight example.
  • First Girl Wins: Genderflipped, with nearly every protagonist who begins a romance in the story eventually marrying that guy. Examples include Walter for Rosa in Valley of the Moon, Johnny for Maddie in My Secret War, and Pete for Libby in The Great Railroad Race. Genderflipped subverted in West to a Land of Plenty: Theresa's love interest in the book is J.W., but the epilogue reveals that though he proposed to her several times, she had decided he was too serious and always turned him down.
  • First-Person Smartass: Patsy from I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly is kind and helpful, but she will occasionally slip into this when talking about people she dislikes.
    James is still taking care of Master. Does everything for him. When Master catch a cold, James be the one who sneeze.
    • Once Liv Trembley in I Walk in Dread decides there are not really witches in Salem, she begins to speak this way of the accusations.
      Maybe all of the afflicted girls should be sent away, each to places distant of the others, and see if the witches still care to torture them.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Cinda's brother, Lem, from A Line in the Sand has a pet raccoon, tries to take in a wounded raven, and is repeatedly noted as loving animals.
    • Molly Flaherty of Where Have all the Flowers Gone is this, too. She owns a dog and a couple of cats, and the epilogue states she and her husband have six animals at home, all former strays.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Touched on when Julie is told about her late Cousin Eva, who turned down Aunt Clara's and Uncle Martin's offers for an abortion. Sadly she dies giving birth to a baby that lived for a few days.
  • The Great Depression: Christmas After All and One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping.
  • The Greatest History Never Told: A lot of the books take place during times and in places that people rarely hear about.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: A very obvious example of a whole group being downgraded is in My Heart is on the Ground by Ann Rinaldi, which makes the white men who took Lakota children to be "reeducated" in the ways of white people seem only like misguided missionaries.
  • Hope Spot: In A Coal Miner's Bride, after Anetka finally has enough and yells at Stanley for calling her a lazy wife and not appreciating all she does, he spends the next few days being kinder to her, kissing her, and helping with the children. Then he dies in a roof fall in the mine.
  • Infant Immortality: Often averted and it's tragic.
    • One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping features a baby dying in his Mother's suicide (she took him with her) and a little boy trying to keep his father from being taken by the Nazis.
    • A Journey to the New World features a few children dying from illnesses like this one little girl who saw her dead Mother right when she died and a friend of Mem Whipple.
    • Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie features a young child dying from sampling hemlock mistaken for root vegetables along with a few wagons getting lost in the river.
    • When Will This Cruel War Be Over? has Emma's baby cousin dying from an illness at the end.
    • A Picture of Freedom mentioned that a whole family drowned on their way North, they had several young children.
    • Dreams of a Golden Country mentions a neighbor's young son dying and Zippy's baby brother died after his birth
    • A Line in the Sand mentioned that Lucinda's baby sister died on their way to Texas, her cousin died in an epidemic, and her friend Mittie's little sister died.
    • Narrowly averted in Land of the Buffalo Bones where Laura and Cal nearly die of what is implied to be strep throat, but they're saved when Ozawa gives Polly roots that can be used for tea to cure them.
  • Innocent Inaccurate
  • In Vino Veritas: Stanley in A Coal Miner's Bride once behaves much more lovingly towards his wife, narrator Anetka, while drunk... and calls her by his deceased first wife's name. This leaves Anetka envious of his evidently happy first marriage.
  • I Will Wait for You: Amelia is told to do this by Daniel when he joins the Union Army in A Light in the Storm.
  • Just Friends: Madeline Beck of My Secret War has her friend Clara think she is in love with a boy she has started a club with named Johnny, although Maddie refuses to believe it, thinking she is Just Friends with him.
    • The epilogue totally averts this. As an adult, Maddie gets back in touch with Johnny after high school...and yes, They Do.
  • Mama Bear: In A Coal Miner's Bride Americans were throwing rocks at Anetka and her step-daughter. She tried to ignore it until one of the stones hit her step-daughter at which point she says she became a mad woman like a mother cat and ran screaming at those American boys.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Mem Trembley and Darcy Cooper's marriage in I Walk in Dread has elements of this. Mem will benefit because Darcy's family has good money and the marriage will get her out of Salem and away from the Witch Hunt, and the Coopers will benefit because Mem is a good cook and, with oldest son Darcy married off, next son Adam will be free to marry his sweetheart. Darcy clearly loves Mem, as well; Mem is less attracted.
    • In A Coal Miner's Bride, Anetka suspects that her husband only married her so that his daughters would have a mother. Her father agreed to the marriage because the husband-to-be would buy passage to America for Anetka, her brother, and their grandmother. After Stanley's death, various people try to convince Anetka to do this again, so she will have someone to support her and the girls, but Anetka insists that if she marries again she will marry for love.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Minnie Swift of Christmas After All has three sisters and a brother, and gains an adopted sister when Willie Faye is sent to live with her family.
    • In Survival Of The Storm, Grace's friend Helen has two lazy older brothers named Leroy and Chester, a five year old brother named Henry, and an unnamed baby sister.
    • Polly from Land of the Buffalo Bones has three older brothers and a younger brother from when her mother was still alive, and after her father and stepmother marry, she gains two more younger brothers, and two younger sisters. Her diary ends with her stepmother pregnant again, and the epilogue reveals that she had a daughter.
  • Meaningful Echo: In I Walk in Dread, about the Salem witch trials, narrator Liv's sister tells her, "I fear that you are a witch, or will soon become one," echoing the words of William Good at his wife's examination. This causes Liv to worry she may be publicly accused as a witch.
  • Military Brat: Maddie, the narrator of "My Secret War". Her father is in the Navy and has been stationed so many places that Maddie considers her hometown to be "everywhere". During the book, he's on a ship in the Pacific.
  • Mysterious Parent: Rosa in Valley of the Moon and her brother Domingo are orphans. They know only that their mother was a native and their father was white. Rosa contacts the priest who rescued them, asking for information. Turns out their father was the brother of the man for whom she and her brother are working as servants, and their newfound relatives welcome them into the family.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: A variant in Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie. Protagonist Hattie Campbell and her family travel with the Andersons, who have a baby aboard the steamboat Eliza May on the first leg of the journey. Since the baby is a girl, guess what they name her?
  • Near-Rape Experience: In The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow, the book comes as close as they can in a book aimed at preteens to implying that one of the soldiers was going to do this to Sarah Nita after she was caught trying to raid corn out of animals' manure at Fort Sumner. He's all of a sudden distracted by the soldier Sarah Nita refers to as "Mica Eyes" calling him out to a different area of the animal pens.
    • Anetka of "A Coal Miner's Bride" also encounters this at one point when one man assaults her, and it is only because her acquaintance Leon Nasevich appears that she is able to escape and subsequently move to America.
    • In "The Great Railroad Race", Libby and Ellie sneak out to a "town" traveling with the railroad to see why their parents have warned them away from it. They are pulled into a saloon by a drunk man, and another nearly drags Ellie out the back door.
  • Noble Savage: Books set in The Wild West or the New World often uses this trope.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: In I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly. Patsy has a bad stutter and can't always speak as fluently as she'd like, so people think she's a dunce and don't expect much of her. Sometimes she plays it to her advantage, by pretending to be too stupid to leave the schoolroom after she's done cleaning it (so she can listen to the teacher and learn how to read and write) or pretending she thought it was Saturday when she skipped the white plantation owners' church services and went to worship with the other freedmen instead.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: The book With the Might of Angels has Dawnie who is teased for playing baseball but the joke's on the boys who tease her because she is proud of it.
    • Kat is part of a field hockey team at her school and they are a nimble bunch.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Jerzy and Lidia in A Coal Miner's Bride got one from Lidia's parents, who had arranged her marriage with another man. They ran away and married anyway, and when her parents found out they disowned her.
  • Point of View: All of the books are written in 1st person narration.
  • Politically Correct History: My Face to the Wind, A Light in the Storm, and Standing in the Light, and My Heart is on the Ground all have this.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: In One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, there is a strong implication that when Julie's mother was separated from Julie's father and Max, the soldiers gang-raped her. When she reappears, her dress is torn, she is completely withdrawn and traumatized (as it later turns out, to the point of suicide) and she refuses to say what actually happened to her to anyone.
  • Roman Clef: Usually it will recreate things that happened in history, only on a smaller scale and before the actual event happens.
  • Scrapbook Story: Every book in the series is in a diary format.
    • West to a Land of Plenty is particularly scrapbook-style, as narrator Theresa shares her diary with her younger sister, pastes in some documents, and copies in letters she writes.
  • Shown Their Work: At the end of each book is "Life In (insert time era here) America" where it shows how life was like in America as well as historical background information.
  • Sadist Teacher: While thankfully not as common as the Cool Teacher, the Dear America books have a few. The most egregious are probably Mrs. Burton from Mirror Mirror on the Wall and Mrs. Caffrey, AKA Woman-Who-Screams-A-Lot from My Heart is on the Ground.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Anetka in A Coal Miner's Bride, writing about her wedding night: "Some things are too private to write even in a diary of private thoughts, so all I will say is that I became a married woman, and it wasn't at all like I expected."
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Julie from One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping compares her late Trophy Wife esque mother and Actor Aunt Clara
    Aunt Clara is unlike Mother in almost every way. Her face is so expressive—you can always tell what she's thinking. And even though Aunt Clara is very rich, she isn't a show-off about it.
  • Signs of Disrepair: In one of the Dear America books, the main character's cousin comes from a town in Texas called Heart's Bend, except that the B is missing from the sign at the railway station, so it says Heart's end.
  • The '60s: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
  • Sleeping Single: In One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping, Julie notes that her parents have separate bedrooms and speculates that this is because of her mother's intense migraines.
  • Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism: Julie, in One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping, finds some letters from her Cousin Eva. She described having "a condition" and not being angry anymore. Later the housekeeper, Susie, tells Julie that Eva was seeing an older man who abandoned her after it turned out she was pregnant. Eva was sent out to a hotel for her pregnancy and it turned out she died giving birth to a baby that lived for only a few days.
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: In I Walk in Dread, Darcy Cooper has scars from the pox and a crooked leg, and stutters. Mem wants to reject his request to court her, but her sister, narrator Liv, points out that he is kind and would be a good husband.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Where Have All the Flowers Gone? which takes place in 1968. While it was written 30 years after that, it's still kind of recent for the series.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The books narrator is somewhat unreliable, considering the age and the point of view of the girl.
  • The Voiceless: In Color Me Dark, protagonist Nellie Lee Love's sister Erma Jean briefly becomes this. It's because she saw what happened to her favorite Uncle Pace in an off-screen scene; he was murdered in a race-driven incident.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Each book ends with an epilogue, explaining what happens to the character, her family and her friends (when applicable) after the book ends.
  • The Wild West: The Great Railroad Race, West To a Land of Plenty, Seeds of Hope, Behind the Masks
  • Witch Hunt: In I Walk in Dread, Liv experiences one of the most famous real-life ones, the Salem witch trials.
  • You Are What You Hate: In One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping, Julie's Uncle Daniel gets into an argument with Julie's father, during the course of which he actually defends Hitler and claims that Vienna is, in fact getting overrun by Jews. When it's implied that her father reminded him that he's Jewish himself by birth (though he had since converted to Lutheranism), his response is that "I'm not Jewish. I haven't been for 20 years."

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