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Dear America

This year a change happened in our study of history without me even realizing it.  Grace and I were talking about reading and what I could do to encourage her to do more of it.  I know she enjoys historical fiction best.  I asked her if she could read whatever she wanted, and have it count as a lesson, what would it be?  She ran upstairs into the attic where we store our books and returned with several of the Dear America books that she has wanted to read for some time.

Dear America.  Historical Fiction.  US History.  8th Grade.  The pieces just fell into place in my mind but I kept my thoughts to myself.  I asked if she would like to read to me while I knit.  Grace does not like to sit still for very long and because of this reading has always been a challenge.  She likes to read before bed and I always fall asleep trying to listen.  But during the day?  I am all ears.  She began reading So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847.  My mother’s family is of Irish descent and is from Lowell.  I know these mills but I don’t know if any of my relatives worked in them. 

As she read, Lilah joined us, curled up on the floor making something out of duct tape while listening.  Grace finished the book in just a few days.  I found a Dear America series of 30 minute movies.  This book was part of the series.  We watched it together and compared it to the book. Of course the story line was condensed and altered to fit into a half hour but despite the obvious changes, I thought it was well done.  

I ordered a DVD, Out of Ireland: The Story of Irish Emigration to America off of Amazon to provide us more information about what life was like in Ireland and how life was drastically different in America.  While at Barnes & Noble, I picked up a copy of Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States to supplement her reading.  It contains information on the Irish, the famine and the hardships they encountered here.  I also planned a visit to Quinnipiac University’s new museum dedicated to the Irish Potato Famine.  Hopefully a visit to Lowell and a tour of the mills will take place in October.

We are building a course from the ground up.  I keep checking off hours in our binder and write down what we are doing.  Grace’s goal is to read a book for every state.  All this was for Massachusetts, and one small part of Massachusetts’ history.  As we continue with other books the learning will intertwine and overlap, just like it does in our Book of Centuries.    The learning that has unfolded from one Dear America book has been rich and rewarding and deep.  It is led by Grace’s interest and put together by her research assistant/mother/teacher.  

Her next book selection is My Face To The Wind, The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, A Prairie Teacher: Broken Bow, Nebraska 1881


  1. Sounds like a wonderful plan.

    1. I hope it has enough to sustain the year. Since she came up with it herself, I think it will. It will be eclectic for sure and then I will have to go back and fill in the gaps that the books don't cover, which is why I bought the text. I thought it would be fun to go with a project and put down Story of the World for a while.....

  2. I love the insight into how this is developing and your role in facilitating it.

    1. Thank you! I will post periodically as we take trips and find new resources.

  3. Jess this is awesome. I love the idea of taking a book and letting it branch out into so many things. That is what I loved about Five in a Row when Keilee was younger. I even sometimes get picture books for history. We both love picture books. Great idea!!! I think Kei has some Dear America books around somewhere.

    1. Yesterday I found a Crash Course History on this time period. It even mentioned Irish Immigrants and the mill work in Lowell! You just can't plan that! We started the next book, this one set a few years later in Nebraska and already researched black diphtheria. Lovely disease.

  4. Dear America books are GREAT! Anna has read so many of them, and now we look for them at every antique, consignment, and thrift store we go to -- Grant also likes the ones about the young boys. :-) I think it's so cool how you are building this course from the ground up, Jess -- it will be meaningful for your girls - much more so than some dry history textbook!

    1. This year I am participating in a way that I have not in previous years. I love that Grace is reading these books aloud to me and sometimes to her sister. I love that we stop and research and make connections as we go. I have loved SOTW and we have done this with that text but this has drawn Grace into reading and has opened up more avenues that SOTW has for us lately. I am very excited to see where this study takes us.

  5. A book that spurred much history when my daughter was in 8th grade(now she is in 12th) was Ashes of Roses. I do not remember the author. It deals with immigration and factories in NYC.


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