The diary is a narrative form that’s especially popular in historical fiction for children. The best-known example is probably the Dear America series, which was published by Scholastic in the late 1990’s. The format is very difficult to pull off—your narrator’s voice has to be perfect, and since you’re writing about specific days in history, attention to detail is vital. Still, I personally enjoy diary stories if they’re done well.
I’ve met some librarians and history teachers, though, who don’t care for this format. One teacher told me that she didn’t want her students, who were learning about primary and secondary sources, to read the Dear America books. She was afraid the kids wouldn’t realize that the novels were fiction and would confuse them with actual primary sources.
Personally, I think that children who are old enough to be reading novels like Dear America should be able to understand the books aren’t real diaries, though teachers should definitely clear this up if it’s confusing. I also think that these books provide a valuable historical experience for kids. Young readers may not be quite ready to tackle the archaic spelling and grammar of many primary sources—but a mock diary written in more modern language can still give them a good feel for the times.
So what do you think about the diary format for historical fiction? Is it confusing for kids? Is it a good way to teach history? Or is it just another way to tell a story?
Melissa L. is the YA Editorial Assistant for Wonders and Marvels. You can read more about her here: Editorial Staff.