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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dear America is a historical drama series based on Scholastic books of the same name. Each episode tells a different story from the point of view of a teen girl who writes in her diary of her observations and experiences during a point in American history, including the Mexican-American War, the settlement at Plymouth Rock, and the pre-Civil War South. Expect to see instances of racial tension, war, and other conflicts, although their intensity is downgraded in light of the target audience's youth. Some frightful moments threaten the characters' safety and might be too worrisome for young kids, but overall this series is a great option for bringing certain historical points to life for grade schoolers.
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What's the story?
DEAR AMERICA is a historical anthology drama series set in various turning points in American history. Like the book series upon which it's based, the stories are told in first person by fictionalized girls who write of their experiences in their diaries. From an Irish immigrant in the mid-19th century to a young slave in pre-Civil War Virginia, they tell tales that provide a window through which kids can glimpse how these real events shaped not only the course of America's history but also affected the lives of those who lived through them.
Is it any good?
Dear America humanizes the often-dusty details of kids' history lessons. Rather than simply reading about the relationship between the Quakers and the Native Americans, for example, kids can suss out the climate for themselves in stories such as "Standing in the Light," which tells of a white captive of the Lenapi people who comes to appreciate the Native American way of life. By turning places and dates into the tangible (if fictionalized) story of a person's life, the show makes it easier for kids to grasp the basic concepts.
Because the series is geared toward kids, complicated historical events are reduced to fairly simple terms, but it's a great place to start to introduce your kids to the human side of America's history. And it doesn't shy away from all the drama, so be prepared to answer questions about war, racial tension, and other harsh realities of life in the country's first centuries.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the stories in the show compare to kids' knowledge of these episodes in history. Do you think they portray the culture and emotions of the time with accuracy? Can you relate to the main character and her experiences?
It is said that history is written by the winners. Do you see evidence of this in these stories? Which of the characters would be considered "losers" by American historical standards? Can we fully appreciate their struggles if we've never experienced anything like them?
Families can build on what they learn about history in this show. Read a book or do an activity that relates to each story's particular time and place. What games or pastimes would have been popular for kids then? What jobs might they have held at home or school? How would family life then compare to what you're used to now?
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