Images of Women in Historical Young Adult Fiction: Seeking Role Models
Many of us who teach adolescents are proponents of the idea that we can use novels to promote their thinking about the type of people they will or should become (Barbieri, Atwell, Reif). However, accomplishing this with female students is not always an easy task, especially when we consider both the sociocultural influences with which they are faced as well as the relative lack of strong female models in much of the fiction--typically canonical choices--that we often ask students to read. Consequently, one of my classroom goals has been to help my female students find portrayals of women in literature that allow them to question the evolution of adolescent girls into young women and then adults. We then discuss their reactions to these novels in the context of 10-15 minute reading conferences. The following is the beginning of a reading conference I engaged in with a 16-year-old high school junior; we were discussing a book called Lone Star Love.
Mrs. B: So what is it about this type of book [a romance novel] that you like so much?
Connie: I enjoy the romance, but what I really like is seeing men and women find each other, flirt, then agree that the other "measures up" to each other's expectations.
Mrs. B: You don't get this in other books?
Connie: Not much. In the books most teachers make us read...well, they're full of wimpy women or no women at all while the men go out and do all of the exciting work, have the adventures, test themselves. In my romances, women test their boundaries. Like in this book, Brianna has to take care of herself because her guardian gets killed. She's doing okay by herself, but she's still looking for a guy. But she's smart enough to go for one who will help her run her ranch more successfully and love her for her brains and courage.
Mrs. B: ...So do you think that that's the way it was in the Old West?
Connie: Not if what I read for history is true. Women didn't seem to have done much of anything except cook and take care of kids on the wagon trains or become prostitutes if they couldn't find a boring man to marry who would take care of them.
Mrs. B: Well, if you don't think they're real...
Connie: I have to admit that it's more like 20th century women being placed into the historical situation in the books I like. They're women capable of doing for themselves, but if they want a man, it's okay. That's how I intend to be in my own life. (giggles)
Mrs. B: Do you see these women in the romance novels then as role models for you?
Connie: Sure. 'Cause you know, maybe there were women back then who were strong like that, but they were probably the exception rather than the rule.
Mrs. B: So do you think you could enjoy a book more typical of life for women in earlier eras of history that wasn't written primarily as a "bodice buster?" [This is our class term for historical romance novels.]
Connie: Well, you know I kind of liked The Scarlet Letter.
Mrs. B: As I recall, you read it as Hester getting back at Dimmesdale for getting her pregnant by not telling the secret of Pearl's parentage...
Connie: ...letting him drive himself crazy about it. Yeah, I liked the book that way! But I don't think I've read anything else. Huckleberry Finn didn't have any women and...what else? The Crucible kind of had interesting women; I didn't like Abigail but she sure didn't let anyone stand in her way. Of course she ended up a prostitute, didn't she? [She laughs.]
For the most part, Connie and her female classmates found few novels in the traditional curriculum that provided them with strong, impressive female characters; Connie's comments certainly underscore this failure in many canonical texts to provide female role models for adolescent female readers. But Connie did find the type of character she was looking for in the historical fiction she read by choice. Keeping that in mind, I will argue that contemporary adolescent literature---written from accurate historical perspectives, with adolescent females as main characters---provide students like Connie opportunities for reflection and analysis that canon texts, which also tend to be historical in nature, do not. What I would like to consider in this piece is a number of texts written specifically for adolescents in light of how they cast female characters as potential role models to which late 20th century female readers can relate. For each text, I will offer a brief analysis and then discuss how each functions as an accurate historical representation and as a vehicle for the consideration of role models by adolescent female readers.
Can "Realistic" Characters Serve as Role Models?
In The Clock, James Lincoln and Christopher Collier (1992) introduce us to Annie Steele, a young woman forced by her father to work in a woolen mill in order to pay off his debts. Although Annie, her brother, George, and her mother all consider the father's actions foolish and dangerous to the family's economic security, Mrs. Steele admonishes her children that they must do as Mr. Steele says because, "he's head of this household and it's his right to do as he likes"(4). Annie has rebellious thoughts about her father and the job, but seems unable to act on them, even when she endures sexual harassment at the hands of the mill manager, Mr. Hoggart. When Annie tells her father that Hoggart is harassing her, he expresses concern but refuses to believe Hoggart evil, even after Hoggart kills Annie's friend, Robert, after she again spurns Hoggart's advances. Annie does not act until she is labeled a liar by friends and family. Although she does fashion a plan to expose Hoggart and free herself from the mill, Annie's attempt is unsuccessful. Indeed, she must be "saved" by her brother, George. He rescues her physically from the violence of Mr. Hoggart, and emotionally, when he stands up to their father and threatens to leave home with Annie and the family income if Mr. Steele does not accept his responsibilities as master of the house.
Annie is the most historically accurate of the female protagonists surveyed for this paper (see annotated bibliography at the end of this article), especially in terms of the era in which the story was placed. Still, adolescent females reading in the 1990's tend to have a difficult time considering her to be a hero or a role model. Annie is a victim of outside forces throughout the story, and because of the cultural role modeling by her mother, it is not in Annie's character to challenge the decisions made by her father or Mr. Hoggart. It is not until the injustices against her threaten her reputation that Annie decides she must defend herself within a society which valued women as nurturers and unquestioning workers, not as decision makers.
Interestingly, a group of professional women with whom I was discussing this text found Annie to be strong because she was concerned about her reputation and sensible enough to look for help in rectifying her situation. Yet in contrast, adolescent females suggested that even as Annie determines that she must confront Hoggart, she lacks the internal fortitude to act independently. Annie must have help, and the aid she needs can be offered only by the two males in her life she can trust: a fellow mill worker and her brother. In addition, while the end of the story suggests that Annie will be freed from the mills, there is no guarantee. Indeed, the cultural attitudes of the time period, as evidenced throughout the novel, suggest that both Annie and George will continue to bow to their father's decisions unless his actions are once again extremely inappropriate. This acquiescence bothered adolescent female readers and generally caused them to feel disappointment in Annie as a main character.
Renegades: Heroines Living as Outcasts from Society
Renegade: a word with definite negative connotations. Yet for the majority of my adolescent readers, what caught their attention and admiration in adolescent historical novels were those fictitious young women who were seen as rebels or outcasts from society. Specifically, they admired the young women who took a stand against societal expectations and forced some type of a change through their own actions.
An illustrative character in this category is thirteen-year-old Charlotte, from Avi's award-winning The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990). Charlotte is introduced as a young woman of very proper upbringing, who, in 1832, is instructed by her father to sail by herself from England to America aboard a merchant ship called the Seahawk. Charlotte is scandalized when she finds out that she is to travel with a crew of men. However, her father's words are inviolable, and with great reticence, she sails. Within days, she finds that all on board is not as she would have expected. Though Captain Jaggery has a civilized facade, it becomes clear that he is a madman. Eventually, Charlotte's moral sensibilities concerning the captain's treatment of the crew force her to choose between Jaggery and the crew. When she chooses the crew, she gives up all rights to her station and the amenities awarded a young lady. Charlotte quickly proves herself an able sailor as well as a trustworthy mate. Accused and tried by Captain Jaggery of a murder she did not commit, it is through quick thinking and courage that Charlotte is able to save herself and other members of the crew from death. After the evil captain is washed overboard in an attack on Charlotte, the crew decides to make Charlotte captain of the Seahawk. Upon the ship's arrival in Providence, Charlotte explains her actions and her unsuitable appearance to her father. Enraged at her behavior, Mr. Doyle has Charlotte locked in her room. Charlotte escapes and returns to the Seahawk and its crew.
Charlotte is the kind of character that female students love because of her bravery, independence and strong-mindedness. Unlike Annie Steele, the more typical young woman of the time period, Charlotte is perceived by readers to "act", and in doing so, earns their admiration. However, even though the book is historically well-researched, it is hard to imagine that a "real" girl raised in the culture of early 19th century New England would have the temerity to rise up against an authority figure like Captain Jaggery. With a book like Charlotte Doyle, teachers must decide if the power of characterization and the issues raised in the text are as important as the realism of the novel.
There is no question that adolescent readers see Charlotte as a role model. As noted earlier, readers, and female adolescents in particular, sense a connection between themselves and the type of person Charlotte becomes. Karin, another student, noted, "I hope I would have her kind of courage if I was faced with a situation where I had to stand up for people I believed in." Other students commented on the variety of issues with which Charlotte had to deal-racism, classism, gender bias-and what they learned about dealing with those topics in their own lives from the type of character Charlotte represented. When students are able to discuss a text and its character at this level of critical thinking, it is easier to decide in favor of working with a text like The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.
Characters in Conflict with Societal Forces: "Real Girls" as Acceptable Renegades
The Salem Witch Trials
In some cases, we find characters living within historical moments who do not function as we might expect. While these characters may be similar to Charlotte Doyle in that they are introduced to readers within the sociocultural confines of their time period, they eventually act out because of historic, social, religious, or other events that skew the way a large number of people think or act. One of the most famous examples of this is the Salem Witch Trials. While many of us are familiar with Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, a number of writers for adolescents have described the witch trials from the view of young women who are peripherally involved in the events.
Mary Chase, in Kathryn Lasky's Beyond the Burning Time, is a character who allows the adolescent reader to fully consider the moral and ethical implications of the Trials as they were situated in the context of Puritan society and legal obscurity. At the start of the book, Mary primarily records the events leading up to the trials as they occur: the strange behavior of the young women, the lack of skepticism about the girls' words on the part of the adults, the arrival in Salem of the various church officials. It is not until her mother is called out as a witch that Mary has to puzzle out her own feelings, eventually reaching a moral sense we might expect of a character created for us as a role model. Once her mother is found guilty, Mary acts. She and her brother, Caleb, develop a plan that plays on the insecurities of the town magistrates in order to save their mother. In this story, Mary evolves from a young woman very typical of her timeÑobedient, quiet, religiousÑto one willing to turn her back on a society she considers morally bankrupt.
In one sense, this era of American history allowed for greater heroism by women because the structure of society was breaking down amidst the witch terror. In a time where the good were being killed, where truth and honesty did not insure one's innocence, one often had to break with the rules of society to create a greater good. Contemporary adolescent females considering this text appreciate Mary's initial apathy about a situation that may not impact her life in a meaningful manner. As readers examine the characters inhabiting Beyond the Burning Time, they react to the characters' insecurities and fears, especially Mary's. They also respond, finally, to the acceptance of the inevitable choices the characters feel they must make: to stand up for themselves, for those they love, and for what they deem right and true in the hopes of creating a stronger society for all.
A Southern Dilemma: Jefferson's Other Daughter
Ann Rinaldi's Wolf by the Ears is another story grounded in history. The characters involved are Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and their children. While many Jefferson scholars had not been willing to admit to the liaison between Jefferson and Hemings, Rinaldi cites Brodie's Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (1988) as the seed of her interest in what happened to Harriet Hemings, the daughter of this union. Also, as Chang notes (1998), strong evidence through DNA testing suggests that at least one of Sally Hemings' male children was a Jefferson, and that Jefferson's own records show that he was at Monticello when each of Sally's children would have been conceived. With the support of plantation records that document Harriet running away from Monticello, as well as additional histories supporting the Jefferson-Hemings line, Rinaldi creates a "what if" scenario within which she places the characters and considers what may have led to Harriet's departure from Monticello at age 21.
The Harriet of Rinaldi's novel hears rumors of her paternity throughout her adolescence; Jefferson never admits that he is her father, although his actions at the end of the story leave Harriet convinced. Throughout the novel, Harriet struggles with the knowledge that she can stay at the plantation with those she knows and loves, but if she does, she will remain a slave forever. Sally Hemings wants her daughter to choose freedom, and with the support of Jefferson's son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, she forces Harriet to consider the potential path her life will take if she leaves Monticello. Harriet's decision is made more difficult when Randolph brings a white gentleman from the north to meet her and, to her surprise, pledge his support to her, going so far as to ask for her hand in marriage.
While the book has what many of my female students considered a "happy ending"--Harriet becomes the wife of her Washington gentleman and "passes" as white--most are greatly affected by the strength of the character Rinaldi has created in Harriet. Even as Rinaldi accurately recreates Harriet's daily life as a house servant, there is no real evidence of Harriet's, or Sally's, feelings about their life with Jefferson. The believability of Harriet, then, relies on the reaction of adolescent readers to an historically-based character who must choose between two distinct yet closely-tied cultures: slave and free.
Sheila, a junior who is an avid history buff, commented that "Harriet's caught between two worlds in a time in [American] history when a woman of mixed...two ethnic backgrounds might have had more choices because she wasn't tied really tied to one [culture] or the other." However, in making a choice, Harriet aligns herself with one culture and essentially severs all ties with the other, a decision my female students considered a difficult but necessary one if Harriet was to guarantee her own survival. They saw Harriet as a role model because they saw her explore the possibilities of personal identity before she committed to a choice. This line of thinking is very much in accordance with Connie's search for fictional females who accepted a challenge, considered their options, and lived with the consequences.
Historical Role Models: Combining Renegades and "Real Girls"
There are a number of books written for adolescents that provide realistic characters acting as courageous humans within the societal boundaries of their historical time period. In this section, we will consider heroines who react "normally" to situations typical of the time period, and who manage to capture our attention and admiration because of their response.
A New England Patchwork: Three Generations of "Real Girls" Becoming "Real Women"
In Ann Rinaldi's The Quilt Trilogy, we encounter three generations of Chelmsfords, a prominent New England mill-owning family. In the first book, A Stitch in Time (1994), three sisters choose their own life paths against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution in New England. Abigail, against her father's wishes, chooses elopement, sailing off with a dashing sea captain. Thankful, the youngest, is carried off by a band of Shawnee Indians as she travels west with her father and brother. She finds that life with the Shawnee provides opportunities for personal responsibility unknown to her in Salem. Thankful decides to accept and embrace, indeed to prefer, her life with the Shawnee.
Although the younger sisters provide most of the intrigue in the first book, it is the eldest sister, Hannah, who provides the insight into the everyday dilemmas that test the resolve of a character destined to be a role model. In the beginning of the novel, Hannah is recovering from her acquiescence to her father's direction not to marry Louis, the man with whom she is in love, but who is not of her social class. She realizes later that some of her admiration for Louis came from the fact that he was living outside all social boundaries in his work as Indian liaison for the Army. Eventually, Hannah falls in love with Richard Lander, a young sea captain with whom she engages in a relationship truly worthy of her intelligence and emotions. Yet Hannah also follows a moral code that allows her to protect and take on the guardianship of the half Indian, half white baby of Louis. She accomplishes this within the expectations of her society; as her widowed father's hostess, she is expected to solve dilemmas that might threaten the status quo of Salem society.
Hannah also provides the glue that binds both the sisters and the books in the trilogy. As each of her sisters sets off on her own life journey, Hannah presents each with a piece of the quilt she has begun. The quilt illustrates the life of the Chelmsford family. Both Abigail and Thankful are to add to the original pieces so that when the sisters meet again, they can join the pieces. However, it is not until the third book of the trilogy, The Blue Door(1996), that all of the quilt pieces are brought together by their daughters/nieces/granddaughters. Throughout The Quilt Trilogy, the adolescent reader is presented with female characters to whom they can relate. Beth, one of my university students, notes that:they have all the human frailties that I have, that most people I know have. They're unsure in love, jealous, adventurous in small ways, pushing their boundaries. It's pretty nice to know how human people in the past were since so often literature gives us characters who are larger than life.
It is through the finished quilt that the faithful reader of the trilogy truly understands how the generations of Chelmsford women exemplify how a woman can be seen as strong, even as she lives within the confines of societal expectations, regardless of where or when that society is.
The Westward Migration: A Role Model in Reality
Kathryn Lasky's Beyond the Divide (1983) is one of those books that is both historically authentic and sound in providing a wonderful role model. The main character is actually a composite of the young women Lasky read about while researching the Westward Migration. Meribah, an Amish girl, accompanies her father west against the wishes of the rest of her family and the Amish society of which she is a member. Meribah willingly accepts the challenge of life on the trail, but nothing can prepare her for the hardships she and her father must eventually face.
In conjunction with a text like Beyond the Divide, we can use Lillian Schlissel's Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (1992) to help our students see many similarities between the actual world of pioneer women and the one Lasky recreates. For example, Schlissel notes that for many of the children and young people who began the journey with both parents, life was full of fun and excitement, new friends and flirtations. Meribah does not experience this directly: she travels with her father and takes on the responsibilities typically reserved for a wife. But Meribah sees the consequences of the more "happy-go-lucky" side as she watches the journey of Serena, the darling of parents who allow any and all extravagances. Unlike most of the girls who made the journey, Serena is raped; most of the members of the train refuse to see Serena as a victim, because of what they considered her earlier flirtatious behavior. They ostensibly cast her out of their society, informal as it was. Various forms of "outcasting" were not uncommon on wagon trains. Slower wagons managed by incompetent handlers were often left behind if they threatened to slow the journey. Indeed, Meribah and her father also meet this fate, even though they had been instrumental on two previous occasions in helping other wagons keep up with the train.
Like many of the stories about the Westward Migration, Meribah had to deal with the death of her father and the sudden independence that accompanies it. Primary source documents provide real-life examples of women who decide to make lives for themselves in the West, much as Meribah does in the closing chapters of the text. But it is not simply Meribah claiming her independence that appeals to the contemporary adolescent; for readers like Connie, there is romance. A spouse for Meribah lingers on the boundary, ready to become a partner when Meribah names the time. Across the Divide provides the romance many female readers find in "bodice busters" but combines it with a historical reality that ensures a character with a great deal of humanity to whom readers can respond.
So what conclusions can we draw? We have, in essence, three types of female adolescent characters in historical fiction when considering the idea of role modeling. The first is the historically real girl, like Annie Steel in The Clock, who inspires little love on the part of adolescent females. The second is the not-as-realistic character who acts against the expectations of the time period in which they live, like Charlotte Doyle in The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and for whom the following of adolescent readers is loud and joyful. The third are those characters who are able to maintain their historicity even as they engender admiration from their female readership, like the characters in Rinaldi's The Quilt Trilogy and Lasky's Across the Divide.
Novels like The Clock or The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle provide excellent opportunities for discussions of sexism, racism, and classism. They may also allow for an analysis of characters, but the interpretations students respond with are often based more on genuine like/dislike for the character rather than her actions within the historical era. Therefore, if we are interested in looking at novels that allow us to foster discussions of the evolution of women in American history, then we must consider novels that provide us with the most balanced look.
In the majority of adolescent historical fiction, female readers are provided with solid alternatives to both the canonical novel and those romance novels they might otherwise read. Most adolescent historical novels contain romance, but that is not the focal point of the story: the focal point is the maturation of a young woman who comes to earn respect because she takes herself seriously as a person who has meaning in other's lives. She has a sense of purpose, an understanding that she can make a difference, even if that difference is within the bounds of culture and society. Isn't that the kind of sense of purpose we would like for all of students?
Bibliography of Historical Fiction Set in America with Female Protagonists
Dorris, Michael. (1992). Morning Girl. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. Morning Girl, a Taino, looks at the world around her with delight and curiosity. Like those in her community, she appreciates the land and the water and community spirit that guides her life. Then one day while she is swimming in the deepest blue of the ocean, she notices a great ship and some oddly dressed people whom she, in all politeness, invites to the shore. And so comes Christopher Columbus to the Americas. A must-read for children 9 and older, especially if one is working on providing a greater consciousness about the impact of Columbus on the life of the native peoples of America.
Salem Witch Trials/Puritan Era
Lasky, Kathryn. (1994). Beyond the Burning Time. New York: The Blue Sky Press. Fourteen-year-old Mary Chase watches with a mixture of horror and amazement as many of the young girls she grew up with in Salem, Massachusetts, suddenly profess to be possessed by witches. However, when Mary's own mother is accused of being one of the devil's familiars, Mary realizes that her time at the sidelines is over. If she is to save her mother, she will have to summon up all the courage she has to find someone brave enough to challenge the wrath of the Salem community. But to whom can she look? Historical accuracy makes this a solid book for readers 12 and older.
Petry, Ann. (1992). Tituba of Salem. New York: Harper Trophy. Tituba, the maid of Salem's minister, sees visions of herself appearing before groups of angry people. However, the current state of her life gives her no reason to suspect that anything bad could possibly happen to her: she is beloved by the minister's daughter and many of the younger women of the village come to her for information about their future. Then the calls of witchcraft work their way around the village and Tituba must come to terms with her own part in the situation and try to save herself amidst the terror that would become The Salem Witch Trials. An excellent read for students 12 and older.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1992). A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Susanna English, the daughter of a prominent Salem businessman, wanted desperately to be part of the circle of girls who secretly went to Tituba, the minister's Caribbean maid, and heard from her the promise of their futures. When Susanna finally is invited, it is to witness the beginning hysteria that would lead to the witch trials and the deaths of 24 innocent people. Susanna's conflict derives from the fact that she knows the calling out of witches cannot be true, yet she is too scared and too superstitious herself to, at first, realize that she must share the truth with those in power. When Susanna finally comes to this realization, it is, for many reasons, too late, and her family must also pay the price for the lies told by people who looked to benefit from the situation. One of the more accurate pictures of the Salem Witch Trials for those 12 and older.
Speare, Elizabeth George. (1958). The Witch of Blackbird Pond. New York: Dell. The classic "outsider" text that introduced many of us to Puritans, the story of Kit Tyler and her life with her Puritan relatives in Connecticut Colony also works well as a pre-cursor to the study of the Salem Witch Trials. Like the heroines of other stories written to showcase this era, Kit is a young woman who "looks" prejudice in the eye and calls it what it is. Her heroism on the part of her friends is what makes her a role model to many younger readers. A wonderful read for students 10 years and up.
Revolutionary War Era
Rinaldi, Ann. (1991). A Ride into Morning: The Story of Tempe Wicke. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Tempe Wicke has a strong revolutionary zeal, and in that spirit, she refuses to give over her beautiful, speedy horse to the British soldiers who would like to use her against the rebellious colonials. But Tempe never knew that she might have to put her own life in danger to support the rebellion. A solid adventure story for those 12 and older although not in the same category as a book like Avi's True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1994). Finishing Becca: A Story About Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Becca's family has fallen on hard times: her beloved father is dead and with him, the family fortunes. But Becca's mother strikes a deal with the Quaker Shippen family: Becca can become a housemaid for the family's spoiled daughter, Peggy, if Becca can be educated with the Shippen girls. And so it comes to be that Becca witnesses how the relationship between Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold leads the once loyal soldier to betray his country to the British. The romance of Arnold and Shippen will draw readers, but for many, it will be the plight of Becca and what she learns that will keep readers 12 and older involved in this story.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1993). The Fifth of March: A Story of the Boston Massacre. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Rachel Marsh is indentured as a servant to young lawyer John Adams and his wife, Abigail. Although she is happy in her situation, she also finds herself drawn to British soldier Matthew Kilroy, who is part of the garrison assigned to Boston during Fall, 1768. By March 1770, Boston is on the verge of a massive riot against the British, and Rachel finds her loyalties tested when Matthew becomes the first soldier to fire on the Boston citizenry. Another solid Rinaldi read for those 12 and older. The attention to detail found in the riot scenes, as well as Rachel's choices throughout the story, will give students much to consider when facing the dilemma of love versus loyalty.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1996). Hang a Thousand Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley. New York: Scholastic. Phillis Wheatley is a young slave who shows a strong inclination towards reading and writing. Taught by tutors of the Wheatley children, Phillis begins writing the poetry that will make her famous in America and England. But even with all of her talent, Phillis cannot break free from the one truth in her life: she is a slave belonging to the Wheatley family, not a daughter of the family. Phillis must come to terms with both her career and her life with the Wheatley's before she can truly decide who she is and how she will live her life. An excellent book into the life of an extraordinary young woman who rose to the heights of fame because of her unique status in the white world but who was, eventually, victimized by those who thought they were helping her. This novel would work well with excerpts from The Life of Frederick Douglas and other slave narratives as a beginning discussion for a unit on the history of civil rights in the United States. For readers 12 and older.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1986). Time Enough for Drums. Mahwah, NJ: Troll. Fifteen-year-old Jemima Emerson wears her political leanings on her sleeve; she is an avowed Patriot and has little time for anyone whose loyalty leans toward Britain or King George, especially if that someone is her tutor, John Reid. But when the Revolutionary War comes to Jemima's front door, she finds that appearances are not always to be believed, and that in every person's life comes the moment when she has to stand up for her beliefs, regardless of the consequences. The back cover will hook those looking for romance; the story inside will convince them that historical novels are well worth reading. For readers 12 and older.
America from the Turn of the 18th Century through the Industrial Revolution
Avi. (1996). Beyond the Western Sea: The Escape from Home and Beyond the Western Sea: Lord Kirkle's Money. New York: Orchard. In these two books, Maura O'Connell is faced with the responsibility of bringing her young brother safely to America and the arms of their father, after her mother decides she cannot bear to leave the family's native Ireland. Maura and Patrick are accosted and/or befriended by an amazing variety of colorful characters, and throughout the journey, Maura must depend on her own common sense and ability to know whom to trust. These books were a hard call for me: the characters are wonderful and well-developed, but I never felt quite close enough to Maura and Patrick to really feel like cheering them on as I did while reading Avi's wonderful True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. But the books are still solid in the presentation of the difficulty faced by immigrants to America during the 1850's. For readers 13 and older.
Avi. (1990). The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. New York: Avon. Charlotte Doyle never expected to have her courage tested aboard the Seahawk; after all, she was a thirteen-year-old American girl who had been brought up "properly". However, when she finds herself caught between a ruthless sea captain and his long-suffering crew, she finds that she is old enough to know right from wrong, and she makes her choices accordingly. How could Charlotte have known that following her conscience could put her life in danger? This is a must read for students grades 7-9, although most readers, regardless of their age, will enjoy Avi's tale of high adventure on the open sea. Charlotte is a character that readers of both genders relate to, and the discussions of racism, sexism, classism, and so on that will be prompted by this book should invigorate any classroom.
Collier, James and Christopher Collier. (1992). The Clock. New York: Delacorte Press. Annie Steele wants to be a teacher; her father has decided she will do her family a greater good by going to work in the new woolen mill in town. Subjected to sexual harassment at the hands of her employer, Annie tries to convince her father that life in the mills is not for her. But her father, heavily in debt, cannot afford to let Annie come home. The story becomes one of a young woman who becomes the victim of circumstances beyond her control: she cannot escape the mills because she cannot defy her father; she cannot defy her father because her society demands obedience to the patriarch of the family. Not as satisfying as other Collier books like My Brother Sam is Dead or War Comes to Willy Freeman, but readers will find Annie a historically accurate character. For students aged 11 and older.
O'Dell, Scott. (1960). Island of the Blue Dolphins. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. This Newbery Award winning story of Karana, the Native American girl who spent eighteen years alone on the island of San Nicolas, is the fact-based story of the "Lost Woman of San Nicolas". However, the story of Karana in Blue Dolphins is one of adventure and courage in the face of loneliness and challenge. Karana's beloved younger brother is killed by a pack of wild dogs and she herself must defend herself against the pack, nature, and starvation. A wonderful read for those 9 and older and an excellent female adventure tale that could be used in conjunction with a book like Paulsen's popular Hatchet (Aladdin, 1996).
O'Dell, Scott. (1976). Zia. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Zia picks up the story of Karana as told by her niece, Zia, but this is more Zia's story than Karana's. Like her aunt, Zia is very courageous in the face of obstacles; indeed, it is Zia's desire to see Karana once in her life that puts Zia into a variety of situations that challenge her ability to preserve her own sense of right and wrong in the face of those who would keep her from searching for Karana. Zia's story takes place in California around the missions, and much of the novel considers the prejudice of the Anglos as they manipulate the Native American peoples "for their own good". For readers aged 10 and older.
Paterson, Katherine. (1991). Lyddie. New York: Lodestar Books. In the 1840's, a young woman who had to earn a living had limited choices. For Lyddie, who is trying to help support her siblings and save the family farm, the decision is to work in one of the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. Life is not easy in the mills, and Lyddie finds that it will take all her emotional will to survive. Yet there are friends, books to share and read with others, and the wages that Lyddie hopes will eventually set her free from the will of an uncle determined to sell the farm and keep the money for himself. A wonderful story for students 11 and older by one of our greatest storytellers, Lyddie would be effective combined with The Clock and The Quilt Trilogy as a take-off point for discussion about the Lowell Mill girls.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1994). A Stitch in Time. New York: Scholastic. Hannah Chelmsford has always been the "glue" for her family. But after Hannah finds herself helping her sister elope, against the wishes of her father, and then finds that she must be the one to stay at home while her father, brother, and sister journey into the west, she also feels that she must create something to hold her family together. In the pieces of the quilt she sends off with her two sisters, Hannah senses she is creating the one piece of history that may bring her family together again in the future. This first offering from the Quilt Trilogy is definitely the strongest in terms of character development, and would be a strong counterpart to Lyddie for classes researching the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America and its impact on people from all social classes. For readers 12 and older.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1995). Broken Days. New York: Scholastic. In this second book of the Quilt Trilogy, the focus of the story switches from Hannah and her sisters to the second generation of Chelmsford women. Ebie, Hannah's niece, faces an ethical dilemma when Walking Breeze, a young half-Shawnee woman, comes to Salem and announces that she is the daughter of the long-ago kidnapped Thankful Chelmsford. Given the opportunity, Ebie takes the quilt piece Walking Breeze has brought with her, condemning her cousin to servant status in the Chelmsford home. Walking Breeze surprises everyone by accepting the situation and making a success of herself at the family woolen mill. How the dilemma is resolved goes to the very heart of how extended families learn to live with and appreciate each other. Another solid read that could be used effectively with Rinaldi's The Second Bend in the River to consider the relationships among settlers, the American government, and native peoples. For readers 12 and older.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1996). The Blue Door. New York: Scholastic. In the final book of the Quilt Trilogy, Hannah's grand-niece Amanda Videau plans a visit the Chelmsford family mill. The ship that is meant to take her north goes down in an accident, and Amanda is thought to be dead; instead, she travels on to Lowell in disguise and goes to work in one of the family mills in order to ascertain the conditions under which young women work. What she finds is shocking, and with the help of her cousin, Walking Breeze, she attempts to help the young women with whom she has become friends. Again, this is a great text to use with Lyddie or The Clock to study the conditions of workers in the Lowell mills. For readers 12 and older.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1997). The Second Bend in the River. New York: Scholastic. Rebecca Galloway meets the great Shawnee chief, Tecumsah, when she is a child of six. Through the following ten years, she teaches him about literature and the "proper" way to read and write, and he teaches her how to appreciate nature and those who are "different" from the people with whom she has grown up. When she is sixteen, Rebecca receives a proposal of marriage from Tecumsah; torn between her love for the man and her loyalty to her family and culture, Rebecca realizes that either decision will change her life in a profound manner. This novel shows that there have been occasions in American history where settlers and native peoples lived together and respected each other's ideas. For ages 12 and older.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1991). Wolf by the Ears. New York: Scholastic. "You can go north...pass as white. You will be free, my daughter, free." Many historians have long believed that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemings; this is the story of what might have happened to their daughter, Harriet. Rinaldi speculates as to the dilemma Harriet would have faced as she considered the possibility of freedom in the north and the reality of never seeing her parents again, versus staying in Virginia as a slave. This is a stunning novel, especially for those readers interested in Thomas Jefferson. Not only is Harriet bound up in her own moral dilemmas, so is Jefferson himself, and the manner in which Rinaldi handles the characterizations in this novel is wonderful and true to the complicated man Jefferson was that many of us admire. This is a must read for those 12 and older.
The Westward Migration
Cushman, Karen. (1996). The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. New York: Clarion Books. Lucy Whipple is less than happy when her recently widowed mother decides to take her family west. Plus, without a school or library and with too many "uncivilized" miners, Lucky Diggins, California is even less than the already pessimistic Lucy could wish for. In letters to her grandparents back in Massachusetts, Lucy pours out her troubles and concerns and the general life of a family trying to survive in the west during the California gold rush. Younger students will love Lucy and her humor and teachers will enjoy how easily they can plan interdisciplinary units about the westward migration around this novel. For readers 11 and older.
Lasky, Kathryn. (1983). Beyond the Divide. New York: Simon and Schuster. When Meribah Simon's father is shunned by the Amish community in which the family lives, he decides to look for a new future out west and Meribah chooses to leave with him because she shares his inability to live within the confines of the close-knit society. Although the trip begins with high enthusiasm by all involved, Meribah and her father soon find out that the dangers of the western trails are real; even more challenging are the dangers created by those making the westward trek. Meribah soon finds that every person might find the courage within herself to survive; one cannot always count on the goodness of others. In terms of historical accuracy, this is one of the best. I would recommend using this text in conjunction with Lillian Schlissel's Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (1992), New York: Schocken Books. Ages 12 and older.
Lasky, Kathryn. (1998). Alice Rose and Sam. New York: Hyperion. Alice Rose Tucker and her mother have followed Alice's father's from mining town to mining town. When Alice's mother dies in childbirth in Virginia City, Nevada, though, Alice decides she has had enough. She begins a crusade to return east. Alice's life becomes even more difficult after she witnesses a murder. Her only ally in solving the murder is the fledgling writer, Samuel Clemens. Together, the two begin a frightening game of cat and mouse with the real murderer.
Meyer, Carolyn. (1992). Where the Broken Heart Still Beats. San Diego: Harcount Brace Jovanovich. In 1836, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was taken from her family during a Comanche raid. In the intervening 25 years, she adapted to Comanche ways, married a chief of the tribe, and bore three children. Recaptured during a raid by a group of Texas rangers, Cynthia, now called Naduah, is forced to return to a family she doesn't remember, to a society whose ways she doesn't remember. This story, told in alternate chapters by Cynthia Ann and her adolescent cousin, Lucy Parker, chronicles Cynthia Ann's life as she struggles to sustain her Comanche identity amidst the expectations of her well-meaning but demanding family to become "white" again. Another solid novel in terms of historical accuracy. Like Beyond the Divide, this novel would work well in conjunction with Schlissel's Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey. Ages 12 and older.
The Civil War
Lasky, Kathryn. (1996). True North: A Novel of the Underground Railroad. New York: The Blue Sky Press. This novel shows the two sides of the Underground Railroad through the experiences of two young women whose lives become intertwined. Afrika is a young slave who has escaped her plantation with the help of Harriet Tubman, but finds that the rest of her journey must be made on her own. Lucy Bradford is the granddaughter of a Boston abolitionist; she is trying to find her own place in a society that doesn't value young women who aspire to more than cooking and cleaning. The two young women are thrown together when Lucy's grandfather dies, and Lucy must take over as guide to Africa. With plenty of adventure throughout the text, this one will be a favorite with most readers 12 and older.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1993). In My Father' House. New York: Scholastic. In this excellent story of one family's experiences during the Civil War, we meet the McLean family. The McLeans have the dubious distinction of owning the farm on which the first battle of the Civil War was fought, and they own the home in which the treaty that brought the war to a halt would eventually be signed. Amidst all this, a stepfather and daughter try to come to terms with each other as even as they consider the impact of the war on their lives and beliefs about family, freedom, integrity, and loyalty. A story with wonderful characterizations throughout for readers 12 and older.
Rinaldi, Ann. (1988). The Last Silk Dress. New York: Holiday House. Desperate to help the Confederacy, Susan begins her own campaign to round up enough silk dresses so that Confederate troops can have their own balloon with which to spy on Union troops. However, within this framework, Susan also gains greater knowledge about her family and the secrets they keep, secrets that could endanger the strong bonds that hold the family together. Another solid read for those 12 and older and a wonderful book to juxtapose against texts like In My Father's House.
Jean Boreen is an Assistant Professor and the Coordinator of English Education program at Northern Arizona University. She teaches courses in adolescent literature and how to teach literature at the secondary level as well as supervising student teachers.
Reference Citation: Boreen Jean. (1999). "Images of Women in Historical Young Adult Fiction: Seeking Role Models." The ALAN Review, Volume 26, Number 2, pp. 14-21.