26 August 2007
The New York Times reports that September will see the release of two new American Girl dolls, Julie, and her Chinese-American friend, Ivy. There will be six books in the new series, penned by Judy Moody creator Megan McDonald, which take place in the 1970's. So the question is--will they count as historical fiction? What exactly makes historical fiction is something which I think is up for debate. By my definition, historical fiction is fiction which tells a story and makes a point of doing so during a specific period in the past. So by those standards, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Sphere, Elizabeth George) is historical fiction, whereas Little Women (Alcott, Louisa May) is not. Sphere wrote a story during a period of which she herself was not contemporary, and she used that era as part of the story (the story would not have the same impact if it was set at the Alamo, for instance.) Alcott based her story during the American Civil War (at least, that's when the story started) a time not far removed from her own, and that era is really inconsequential to the telling of the story. The war serves to keep Mr. March away from home and the main action of the book, but it does not shape Jo's ambitions. The fact that Kit Tyler in "Witch" lives in a Puritan town during a time of superstition and a fear of witchcraft influences almost every event in the story.
So where does that leave Julie and Ivy and the events of their stories--a mere 37 years ago? I guess if you are an 8-12 year old reader of these books, 37 years ago might as well be 100. And the stories are clearly set in "a context", judging by the earlier AG series. My guess is, I will be adding these to the "Historical Fiction" reading list at work. But the Hardy Boys, chock full of details about life in the 30's, 40's, and 50's are still just detective novels.