When I was growing up, I read every book in the Yorkville School library in the “Childhood of Famous Americans” series. Years later when I saw certain names in textbooks or articles– John Jacob Astor, Clara Barton, Narcissa Whitman, Jim Thorpe, Virginia Dare–reading about them was like getting reacquainted with old friends.
When my daughter was born, I vowed she would have an American Girl doll before she had a Barbie. By the time she entered school, we had begun to read the American Girl books together. Even her older brothers did not escape the American Girl influence: before our family trip to Colonial Williamsburg, I read the Felicity books to all three children, and they were eager to explore the Governor’s Palace and the Powder Magazine as a result.
One summer when Hilda and I attended the Write by the Lake writers’ retreat in Madison, author Kathleen Ernst was my instructor. Kathleen has written numerous mysteries for American Girl as well as other historical fiction, bringing history to life for children. Her class taught me that even when a character’s outer struggles involve events of long ago and far away, readers relate to the character’s inner struggles, which transcend time and place.
Soon young people will read Plank Road Summer and share the struggles and the triumphs of our characters. In the process, if the days of plank roads, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the Fugitive Slave Law come to life for our readers, Hilda and I will have accomplished what we aspired to do.