In the late nineties and early aughts, the big literary sensations for the kids were Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. While The Lord of the Rings is in a league of its own (The Sunday Times is famously quoted as describing the “English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them”), Harry Potter is truly a sensation of my generation. Once, while in a thrift store, I picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and realized my future niece or nephew will never experience the books like I did- it’ll probably fall to me to make sure they read the books at the appropriate ages. No nine year old is ready for Deathly Hallows, methinks.
But there’s one series that was around at the same time that I think only I loved among my circle of friends –The Royal Diaries.
If you were in middle school at the same time as I was, you might remember The Royal Diaries or, at the very least, Dear America, which is where it all started. Dear America was a series of historical novels published by Scholastic aimed at preteen girls. Each novel was a diary written by a girl who lived during a particularly interesting or pivotal part of American history. It started in 1996 with the publication of A Journey to the New World by Kathryn Lasky. Scholastic put out a handful of Dear America books out each year between 1996 and 2004, when the series was cancelled. The last Dear America book published was Hear My Sorrow by Deborah Hopkinson. Dear America proved wildly successful, inspiring not only copycat series in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and France, but three spin-off series for Scholastic–My Name is America, the male counterpart, My America, for the little ones, and The Royal Diaries.
The Royal Diaries, naturally, were the diaries of royalty from all over the globe and all throughout history, using the same tried and true format as Dear America–a day-to-day diary followed by a section of historical notes about the time period and the heroine. The series started in 1999 with Elizabeth I by Kathryn Lasky and ended in 2005 with Catherine by Kristiana Gregory, with twenty books in total. And The Royal Diaries were much better than Dear America–at least, that’s what I thought when I was twelve.
In its favor, The Royal Diaries had variety. Not that Dear America didn’t–it made an effort to include heroines of color throughout American history, but The Royal Diaries had a much larger scope. Nearly half of the royals covered in The Royal Diaries are women of color from various different cultures, making it just much more interesting. The girls of The Royal Diaries are also much more interesting than the girls covered in Dear America. In Dear America, the event they’re witnessing or living through is the story; in The Royal Diaries, the royal and her culture are the story. The series includes some of the most famous royal women in history, including Cleopatra and Mary, Queen of Scots. It was a great introduction to historical fiction for wee lasses, as well as to history. I still appreciate it when historical novels include some notes at the end about how much they’ve deviated from the historical record.
Originally, this post was going to end with a nostalgic sigh and a vow to pick them up at thrift stores when I can, because, of course, The Royal Diaries are currently out of print. However, while researching for this post, I discovered that something wonderful is going to happen–Dear America is being reissued starting this September. Since Scholastic considers The Royal Diaries as part of the Dear America franchise, if their website is anything to go by, a reissue of The Royal Diaries might be in the works if the Dear America reissue is popular with today’s wee lasses. They could even update the historical note at the end of Anastasia! It’s a long shot, but it’s just as long as my eternal hope that Disney will simply translate Der Glöckner von Notre Dame and put The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Broadway. A girl can dream, can’t she?
In other news, I got back from New England with three reviews finished and several Sunday Salon ideas written down, which I’m happy with. It feels so nice to have a buffer! I finished The Sword-Edged Blonde on Friday and Maus on Saturday, and I picked up Robin McKinley’s Beauty because I adored her writing in Sunshine so much, which is what I’m reading right now. My job prospects seem to be evaporating, so I’m going to try and log some volunteer hours at the library soon, as well as get back into a regular exercise routine after that unexpected trip.
Did you ever enjoy The Royal Diaries, or is there a series you think you were the only one to have loved when you were a kid?