Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Book Review: Dear America: Down the Rabbit Hole, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Scholastic, 2013)
The heroines in Scholastic's Dear America series seem to have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this new release, our heroine, Pringle Rose, moves from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Chicago right before the great Chicago fire of 1871. Pringle and her younger brother, who is disabled, are orphaned when their parents are killed in a mysterious carriage accident. Her father is a rich industrialist who has left her a fortune, but when Pringle overhears that her relatives are planning to institutionalize her brother, the two of them flee by train to a family friend in Chicago. Not only does the author weave a suspenseful story about the fire and its aftermath, she weaves in a number of other social history themes: the rise of the labor unions and labor unrest; women's rights; the treatment of disabled children at that period; and even the beginning of the animal rights movement. As usual with this series, there is extensive back matter with more historical background, historical illustrations, photographs, maps, and in this instance, even recipes.
In this newest round of Dear America releases, Scholastic has contracted with some of our best writers for young people, and this particular volume is written by Newbery honor-winning author Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Bartoletti is best known for her many nonfiction works on American and European history, including her most recently published historical work, They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group (2010). She has also written a number of historical novels for young people as well as some picture books.
While critics often give short shrift to series books, the Dear America series is an example of one series in which the quality continues to be very high and the educational content well integrated into the narrative. I hope Scholastic will continue to offer new entries in this series in the coming years.