Pioneer fiction for a younger audience

Just as I said I probably would, I am going to bundle together a few reviews of YA/Juvenile historical fiction in the same theme as my previous post.  I have some beloved favorites that I would like to share.

Very high on that list is a series of books that I mistakenly thought that I had already written about.  That’s not the case, so it looks like I will have to come up with something on the fly.

Most people are probably familiar with the American Girl series, which have been around for quite some time now, and are still going strong, with new characters and books being added even now.  They are all good, but my loyalty lies with the ones that I read when I was in the intended age bracket.  The two girls whose stories always resonated with me the most were Felicity, the Virginia colonist who witnessed the birth of the American Revolution, and Kirsten, the Swedish immigrant whose family moved to the Minnesota prairie in the 1850’s.

The Kirsten stories appealed to my love of the outdoors and of a more simple kind of life.  I grew to appreciate these books even more as I grew older, and I suspect that they had a great deal to do with my constant pursuit of the pioneer story, and the ‘back to the land’ urge that has increased in intensity throughout my adult life.

I was fascinated as a little girl to read about Kirsten’s tiny, warm cabin on the plains, her discovery of wild honey, and her secret friendship with a local Native American child.  I wanted to snowshoe through the woods alongside her, and gather berries with her in the summer.

The American Girl books manage to convey important messages in the stories, about friendship, bravery, honesty and integrity.  They empower young girls to think for themselves and have dreams, and they teach sometimes difficult lessons about American history.  I foresee them being considered classic children’s literature for a long time to come.

Now that I’ve covered the Kirsten books, I will continue on with two other reviews that I pulled from my Goodreads account.  The first one is from one of my favorite kid fiction authors, Bruce Coville.  The review is not very thorough, but I’m happy just to give the book some exposure.  It seems to be one of his lesser-known works, which is a shame, since it’s a lovely coming of age story – humorous, moving, and well-written.

The book is Fortune’s Journey, and I hope you’ll consider reading it yourself, since this review is not going to do it justice:

I still like this book as an adult. It was rather different than all the other Bruce Coville books I know and love – and I wish he would write more like it. It’s difficult to find historical fiction of this American era that isn’t just for kids. Young adult is more common, and adult seems to be very scarce. Like I said before, though, this is still as enjoyable to me as it was when I was a teen. The fact of the main characters being a traveling acting troupe (who are not always welcome among the other travelers or in the towns they visit) puts an interesting spin on the regular Oregon Trail type of story.


So as to end things on a good note, I will now share a more informative and useful review.  This is a book that has probably been reviewed many times before I ever even heard of it.  In fact, I did not read it at the age most girls probably do, but much later.

Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink, won a Newbury Medal in 1936, and would likely earn the same honor were it to be published today.  Since the book has been around for that long, I’m probably not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, or introducing anyone to a book they have never heard of, but there is nothing wrong with that.  Older books deserve our love just as much as the new ones, if not more – lest they be forgotten.

This is a beautiful, touching, amusing, all over wonderful book. I wish I had read it when I was much younger. It teaches life lessons without being preachy – as a reader, you see the characters struggle with their decisions, and you always see them rewarded, however subtly, for doing the honest and compassionate thing.
This book also deals with gender roles (the adherence to and bending/breaking of) in a very healthy and gentle way, and I was really impressed with the way it was handled. I would absolutely love to give a copy of this to every little girl I know.
I was really pleased to find out at the end that it was about the author’s grandmother, based on her stories. This reminds me of These Is My Words (the Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine), and it was just as enjoyable.
If I had a daughter, I would start her out on the American Girl books about Kirsten, then give her Caddie Woodlawn, and eventually have her read These Is My Words (and the sequels). Of course, that’s because I think the best kind of girls are the ones who are pioneer women, whether out on the prairie or just in their hearts.


I hope that the idea of reading children’s literature as an adult does not prevent anyone from giving these books a try.  The best juvenile and young adult fiction does not diminish in enjoyability as the reader ages, and I count these books among the best.


About Elizabeth M. Lee

I love to read, write, and take nature photos. I do other stuff, too.
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