Thursday, October 01, 2009

Once Upon America

Last week must have been a library theme. While Hanover, my older daughter, was reading this American historical fiction, Flurpee was given a choice of another American historical fiction series. Ironically, this series, Once Upon America, is a more difficult read than the one given to my 10 year old.

These books encompass many different eras in American History, like the Dear America series. Yet, they are geared to a younger audience and a younger reader. The books are about as thick as the Magic Tree House series. And like the Magic Tree House books, they are illustrated. Yet, from the few I perused, the language is richer and the intellect of the child is challenged more. I have always felt the Magic Tree House was most appropriate for 2nd graders and I personally did not find the language rewarding at all and could not really imagine a slightly older child getting a lot out of them. These books, even at about the same size, are much more well written in my opinion. I would not hesitate to recommend them to older kids up to 4th and 5th grade.

The history addressed is serious and there are less punches pulled than with the Hannah of Fairfield trilogy. The subject matter also makes them more appropriate for older kids as well. The book about Pearl Harbor addresses some issues of racism since the main character is best friends with a boy of Japanese descent along with describing the events of the bombing. The books cover the depression, the beginning of the labor movement, women's suffrage, poor treatment of Native Americans, the assassination of Kennedy, and the Oregan trail along with more. People the characters know will be killed, murdered, or commit suicide. Concepts clearly geared to an older audience. Not all of the stories include such macabre scenes and there are plenty to choose from.

I would put these books into a category of books that would please older readers without being a huge strain on their reading ability. I know teachers are often looking for books that will get older kids with lower-level reading abilities interested, and I think these books would easily fit that bill. They would also be a less-painful or time-consuming option for those kids who might look at a 200 page historical fiction novel with dread even if their reading level could support it. I would consider these for the historical topics covered because I would not want my kids wallowing in some of the more depressing topics for as long as would be necessary in the thicker books.

Story-wise, the books are short, and as you would expect some of the story-telling suffers. To fit the history, some books may not have even pacing and the character development may be flat. While they may introduce the history, they may not be a compelling narrative. I am realizing that I know very little of what is available when it comes to children's literature, but this may be acceptable if nothing else fits the bill for the reading level or the interest.

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