Roundtable: A Proud Taste for Alex & Eliza

Hilary Mantel recently gave the annual BBC Reith Lecture in which she described why she became a historical novelist. Printed in The Guardian, Mantel argued that culture and genes, history and science, put “our small lives in context.” Mantel’s work is of course separated from the theme of this roundtable by two degrees, as she is neither a writer of YA nor of Early America, but the broader question I think she was trying to answer—why we write about what we do—resonate in a conversation on #FoundingFiction. Continue reading

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Roundtable: A Letter to Dear America

Today’s Founding Fiction post is by Lindsay M. Chervinsky, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. Her manuscript is titled, “The President’s Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.” Follow her @lmchervinsky.

Each book in the Dear America series portrays a diary of a young fictional woman that explores her experience during one specific year in American history. The first-person account shares observations of well-known events or places, as well as the daily struggles of an “average” girl’s life. A number of these diaries take place in #VastEarlyAmerica. A few examples include A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, which tells the story of the Mayflower crossing in 1620; The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, which shares one woman’s experience in Valley Forge in 1777; and Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, which examines the struggles of a French slave girl in the New York Colony in 1763. The series was discontinued in 2004, but Scholastic republished many of the originals in 2010 and continues to produce new volumes today. Continue reading

Roundtable: Telling the Story of the Declaration

Today’s Founding Fiction post is by Emily Sneff, Research Manager of the Declaration Resources Project at Harvard University. The mission of the Declaration Resources Project is to create innovative and informative resources about the Declaration of Independence. To learn more, follow @declarationres.

How do we get kids to read and comprehend the Declaration of Independence? Great authors and illustrators can transform the characters, events, and text of the Declaration (which, as you may expect, registers at about a 12th grade reading level) into true stories that are both entertaining and educational for younger readers. On the Declaration Resources Project’s blog, Course of Human Events, we recently interviewed authors Barbara Kerley (Those Rebels, John & Tom), Steve Sheinkin (King George: What Was His Problem? The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution), and Gretchen Woelfle (Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution). Their books, and a few other favorites, form an exciting non-fiction reading list for children and young adults. Continue reading

Roundtable: Making Teen Girls into Women’s Historians

Welcome to Founding Fiction, The Junto’s first roundtable exploring how children’s literature and young adult fiction depicts early American history. Between posts, we’ll compile a shelf of favorites to (re)read. Tweet us at #FoundingFiction or comment with your recommendations for Very Early Americanists. Happy summer, let’s dive in!

Today’s post is by Laura Ansley, Ph.D. candidate in history at the College of William & Mary, and managing editor of the Nursing Clio blog. Her dissertation is titled, “Life Problems: Sex Education in the United States, 1890-1930.” Follow her .

Phillis Wheatley and Abigail Adams and Peggy Shippen and Harriet Hemings: all early American women whom I learned about from Ann Rinaldi’s young adult fiction. I have been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember, but Rinaldi was one of many authors who helped me to better understand what the best kind of historical study is. While school classes covering the Civil War may have talked about generals and battles, Rinaldi introduced me to characters like Osceola, stepdaughter of Wilmer McLean, who moved his family away from Manassas when the war came to the quieter Appomattox Courthouse—meaning the war started and ended on their doorstep. With her focus on teenage heroines, Rinaldi showed that history wasn’t only about important men. Young women experienced these historical events too, and their stories were also worth telling.
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Begging for Bounty

1829-city-scatEvery day they took apart the city, and put it back together again. New Year’s Day was no different. They worked while dawn, then dusk, threaded the sky, to patch up narrow streets. Lamplighters, an urban mainstay heroicized by Maria Susanna Cummins’ fictional “Trueman Flint,” heaved up their wooden ladders to trim wicks and refill oil pans. Along with the dry-dirtman, city scavengers spread out to collect loose trash. The scene might have been Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis—and set anytime from the Revolution to the Civil War. Newspaper carriers, mostly young boys, filtered along the avenues. Tucked in sheets of newsprint, the city’s youngest workers also carried on a curious tradition: the New Year’s address. A rhyming blend of local-color writing and cultural commentary, the New Year’s address recapped the past and looked ahead. Laden with ornamental tombstone borders and often draped over double columns, each address ended with a plea for an annual gratuity. Continue reading

Men of La Mancha

don-quixote-book-coverIn a certain village of vast early America, whose name I do not recall, a book fell open. Then another. And another. By 1860, many generations’ worth of American readers had imbibed the two-volume work of Spain’s early modern master, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote, or, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha (1605). Cervantes’ metafiction of a mad knight-errant, often hailed as the first Western novel, bustled and blistered with originality. Continue reading