Friday, December 27, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

My daughter Laura introduced me to Dear America books when she was in elementary school. Together we read several of these fictional diaries about girls living in pivotal periods of American history. I particularly liked stories that could have been those of my own ancestors. Looking at the display shelves in our youth services department, I recently found a new title, Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

I was attracted by two cover elements. First, a girl is shown in front of a burning city. Second, the setting is identified "Chicago, Illinois, 1871." While I did not actually have any ancestors in the Chicago area in the 1870s, I have moved into the area and have read about the historic fire that burned much of the city in 1871.

Once I actually began reading, I discovered numerous interesting story elements. Pringle Rose is the orphaned daughter of an industrialist who fought the coal mining union in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her mother, before her death in an accident, cared for her Down's syndrome son during a time when sending such children to asylums was the norm. Pringle attended a prestigious boarding school until the tragic accident that made her the ward of an uncle and aunt. Reading from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is one of Pringle's retreats from reality. It is only in the second half of the book that Pringle reaches Chicago.

Like other books in the Dear America series, which began in 1996, Down the Rabbit Hole features a strong-willed girl who writes about the daily events of her life. Historical detail is rich in the novel and explained in essays in the appendix. I was not disappointed by my choice and will alert my adult daughter that the series lives on.

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose. Scholastic, 2013. 245p. ISBN 9780545297011.

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