Like the regular book thread, this can serve as a long-term comment repository (linked at right sidebar) even after it's scrolled down; this one is for anybody who wants to talk kids' lit with us.
My daughter and I have both been very excited to discover the American Girl books. My much younger half-sister had been a fan of the series as a child, but I'd always been skeptical: they were, after all, associated with the sale of some very expensive dolls and other products, and I didn't have very high expectations for the quality of the books themselves. (There are eight individual series of six books; each series focuses on a fictional little girl representative of a particular time period and cultural group in American history.) My daughter, however, chose to check one out of the public library (it was the first book about Addy, a little girl who escapes from slavery and begins life in the North during the Civil War), and we were both instantly hooked.
The fact is, the Addy books are extremely well-written and emotionally gripping; and they're furthermore highly informative historically. For a six-year-old girl with little sense of American history and virtually no sense of our country's legacy of racial injustice, they've introduced a number of new topics of thinking and questioning: about war, about slavery, about prejudice, about class, about how culture changes over time. Kids this age have a keen sense of justice, and it's a perfect time to expand their concern for playground and at-home fairness into an awareness of imbalances in the wider world. At the same time, the stories communicate historical themes mainly through the daily life of a single girl, stirring kid empathy by focusing on familiar commonalities: feelings about family members, school experiences and social frustrations, games and meals.
We've finished the Addy stories and moved on to Felicity, a Revolutionary-War-era girl living in Williamsburg, Virginia. Because the themes in the Felicity books-- so far, anyway-- are not so urgently life-or-death, I don't find them quite as absorbing. In the first Addy book, Addy leaves three family members behind and risks her own life trying to escape north with her mother. In the first Felicity book, Felicity rescues a horse from an abusive owner. I guess that was pretty life-or-death for the horse.