18. A children’s book: Valley of the Moon: The Diary of María Rosalía de Milagros by Sherry Garland
List Progress: 30/30!
Dear America is a series of books published by Scholastic, starting in 1996, that tell the stories of historical events through the medium of young girl’s diaries. The books introduce young audiences to wars, migrations, and all manner of historical events through the eyes of everyday children like them. Valley of the Moon, by Sherry Garland (one of the many different authors of the series), tells the story of María Rosalía de Milagros, a thirteen year old orphaned mestizo girl working as a servant at a rancho in Alta California in 1846. Rosa has a personal story about finding her identity and place in the world, while also seeing the changing of hands of Alta California. At the beginning of the book, it is a Mexican territory, for a very brief period in the middle it is the independent Republic of California, and by the end it is an American territory, eventually to be several states. The Dear America books are great at teaching history in an immersive way, and I will admit I learned a fair amount myself.
Despite living an hour from where this book takes place, I knew very little about the history of Alta California and found it fascinating to follow. Valley of the Moon definitely piqued my interest to learn more, and hopefully it did the same for lots of child readers. Rosa’s personal life is just as engaging, as she and her younger brother are being raised as servants on a wealthy estate, positioned as both peers and inferiors to the landowner’s young daughters. The book does not shy away from some of the rougher aspects of her life, such as her native mother’s death from smallpox, though it does pull some punches in regards to the treatment of the native populations. In fact, one of my only criticisms is that the ending offers a bit too easy of a happy ending, which feels somewhat unfair to level against a middle grade novel.
I have an incredible amount of nostalgia and fondness for the Dear America series as a whole, and it was great to try one of the installments that I missed as a kid. I felt something and I learned something, which is the perfect mix for a piece of historical fiction. I have outgrown the series, but I would be happy to recommend Valley of the Moon and its fellows to a young person in my life.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.