Author Archives: Jacqueline Houtman

Labor Day: More than a picnic

There’s just a week left until Labor Day. For many of us, Labor Day means the end of summer or the beginning of the school year. For others, it means a picnic or a festival. Or perhaps a 5K Fun Run (if you can call a 5K run fun).

Labor Day weekend is a weekend to celebrate, but if it weren’t for the labor movement, we wouldn’t even have weekends. The labor movement limited child labor,  improved workplace safety, and gave us the 40 hour work week.

Labor Day—the first Monday in September—celebrates the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of America. Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894 in response to a strike that crippled the railroad system. Federal troops were called in. There were riots. People died.

A couple of years ago, Tracy Abell put together a post about child labor. I encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already. She listed some great books. Read them. And here are some more books about the labor movement and the children involved in it.

Tracy’s post listed two books–Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor by Russell Freedman and Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop– that feature photographer Lewis Hine and his influential photographs. The photos exposed the horrendous conditions in a way that words couldn’t. His photos spoke truth to power. A Lewis Hine photo graces the cover of another book in Tracy’s post: Growing up in Coal Country by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. In fact, the same photo is used on the cover of this book:

Breaker BoysBreaker Boys: How a Photograph Helped End Child Labor by Michael Burgan (Compass Point Books 2011)  

From IndieBound: “Child labor was common in the United States in the 19th century. It took the compelling, heart breaking photographs of Lewis Hine and others to bring the harsh working conditions to light. Hine and his fellow Progressives wanted to end child labor. He knew photography would reveal the truth and teach and change the world. With his camera Hine showed people what life was like for immigrants, the poor, and the children working in mines, factories, and mills.”

Like Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson, which was featured in Tracy’s post, The Bobbin Girl takes place in a textile mill, one of the industries that made extensive use of child labor. (Many of Lewis Hine’s most powerful photos of working children were taken in textile mills.) This particular subject is close to my heart, since my own grandmother was one of those girls. She worked in a silk mill in Paterson, New Jersey after she finished the eighth grade. Because she was gifted academically, the teachers at the high school pleaded with her parents to let her continue her education, but as the eldest of nine siblings, she had to work.

Bobbin Girl

The Bobbin Girl written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Dial 1996)

From IndieBound: “Rebecca Putney is a bobbin girl who helps support her struggling family by working all day in a hot, noisy cotton mill. Working conditions at the mill are poor, and there is talk of lowering the workers’ wages. Rebecca’s friend Judith wants to protest the pay cut–but troublemakers at the mill are dismissed. Does Rebecca have the courage to join the protest?”

In November 1909, workers, mostly Jewish women, at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York went on strike for shorter hours, better wages, and safer working conditions. The strike grew to include 20,000 garment workers and lasted until March 1910. The following year, a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed 146 people, the youngest a 14-year-old girl. The next two books–one nonfiction, the other fiction–bring the realities of the sweatshop and the tragedy to life.

Flesh and Blood

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy By Albert Marrin (Knopf Books for Young Readers 2011)

From IndieBound: “On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City burst into flames.  The factory was crowded.  The doors were locked to ensure workers stay inside . . . It is the story of poor working conditions and greedy bosses, as garment workers discovered the endless sacrifices required to make ends meet.  It is the story of unimaginable, but avoidable, disaster.  And it the story of the unquenchable pride and activism of fearless immigrants and women who stood up to business, got America on their side, and finally changed working conditions for our entire nation, initiating radical new laws we take for granted today.”

Uprising

Uprising By Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 2011)

From IndieBound:  Told from alternating points of view, this historical novel draws upon the experiences of three very different young women: Bella, who has just emigrated from Italy and doesn’t speak a word of English; Yetta, a Russian immigrant and crusader for labor rights; and Jane, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Bella and Yetta work together at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory under terrible conditions . . . Yetta leads the factory’s effort to strike, and she meets Jane on the picket line . . . Through a series of twists and turns, the three girls become fast friends–and all of them are in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911, the day of the fateful fire.”

The photographs of Lewis Hine and tragedies like the Triangle fire may have prompted changes that improved the lives of American workers.  But that didn’t put an end to problems faced by workers. It was complicated . . . 

marching to the mountaintop

Marching to the Mountaintop: How Poverty, Labor Fights and Civil Rights Set the Stage for Martin Luther King Jr’s Final Hours By Ann Bausum (National Geographic Children’s Books 2012)

From IndieBound: “In early 1968 the grisly on-the-job deaths of two African-American sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, prompted an extended strike by that city’s segregated force of trash collectors. Workers sought union protection, higher wages, improved safety, and the integration of their work force. Their work stoppage became a part of the larger civil rights movement and drew an impressive array of national movement leaders to Memphis, including, on more than one occasion, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King added his voice to the struggle in what became the final speech of his life. His assassination in Memphis on April 4 not only sparked protests and violence throughout America; it helped force the acceptance of worker demands in Memphis. The sanitation strike ended eight days after King’s death.

The connection between the Memphis sanitation strike and King’s death has not received the emphasis it deserves, especially for younger readers. Marching to the Mountaintop explores how the media, politics, the Civil Rights Movement, and labor protests all converged to set the scene for one of King’s greatest speeches and for his tragic death.”

. . .  and the struggle continues. 

sweat and blood

For a comprehensive look at the role of labor unions in American history, check out  Sweat and Blood: A History of U.S. Labor Unions By Gloria Skurzynski (Twenty-First Century Books 2008)

For a roundup of web-based sources on Labor Day, go here.

 

Go ahead, enjoy your Labor Day picnic, but as you serve up the hamburgers and potato salad, give a thought for those who made it possible.

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of The Reinvention of Edison Thomas. Her next book, with coauthors Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long,  is Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist (Quaker Press). Bayard was an active supporter of the labor movement. 

Zombie Chicken Winner!

The winner of a signed copy of Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens is:

Mia W.

Congratulations, Mia! Expect an email soon.

 

Interview with Julie Mata–and a Giveaway!


Julie's book portrait (2)

 About Julie:

Julie Mata didn’t realize she was a humor writer until she started writing and it came out…sideways. She admits she has occasionally tried to force funny, which always hurts. Julie is the author of Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, published by Disney Hyperion. Her second novel, Kate Walden Directs: Slug Man from Mars, arrives in May 2015. Both books will also be published in German by CBT, a division of Random House Germany. Julie’s Instagram, KateWaldenDirects, offers fun 15-second filmmaking tips for kids, and you can learn more about Julie on her website, juliemata.com, or by following her on Twitter at @juliehmata.

 

 

ZombieChickens2

About the Book  (From IndieBound):

Night of the Zombie Chickens is supposed to be Kate Walden’s breakout film. But her supporting actresses-her mother’s prize organic hens-are high maintenance, to say the least. Thank goodness Kate’s best friend Alyssa is the star. She’s great at screaming and even better at killing zombies in creative ways.

But when Alyssa ditches Kate for the most popular girl in seventh grade, Kate suddenly finds herself both friendless and starless. Now, thanks to Alyssa’s new crowd, Kate is the butt of every joke at school and consigned to the loser table at lunch.

If movies have taught Kate anything, it’s that the good guy can always win-with the right script. And her fellow social outcasts may be the key to her own happy ending. Kate hatches the perfect revenge plot against her former best friend, but even though her screenplay is foolproof, Kate soon realizes that nothing-in filmmaking or in life-ever goes exactly as planned. Especially when there are diabolical hens out to get you.

 

Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens is your debut novel. Can you tell us a little about its journey from idea to book?

I knew I wanted to write a middle grade novel but I wasn’t sure what to write about. I was sitting in my kitchen one night and the familiar maxim came to mind, write what you know. My first reaction was, I don’t know much! As I thought more about it, I realized that wasn’t exactly true. My husband and I own a video production business and I once wrote and directed a short film, so I know about film and video production. It occurred to me that kids love to make movies with their friends.  Why not write about a girl who wants to be a Hollywood director when she grows up? Of course, she had to be working on a movie. At the time, we were living on an acreage with a small menagerie that included chickens, so I knew about raising hens. Kids love zombies, so I decided that Kate would make a movie about zombie chickens. And Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens was born!

 

What advice do you have for kids who want to make their own movies?

Kids can learn a lot just by watching movies. For instance, how do the professionals frame their shots and how do they move the camera? They can also try Kate Walden’s method, which is to just do it—make a short movie with their friends.  It’s okay to make mistakes because that’s a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t. My Instagram, KateWaldenDirects, offers quick 15-second filmmaking tips on easy ways to create some cool shots. I cover everything from how to make blood to using a skateboard as a camera dolly. Lastly, I would advise kids to try writing a script instead of just winging it. And keep it fun!

 

What have you got against chickens?

Those evil creatures! Ha, actually I love chickens. I also think eggs are delicious. Some of the chicken behavior in my book came from our own hens’ antics, like roosting (and pooping) in the garage, or climbing into cars and pecking at groceries. For my story, I thought it would be funnier if Kate hates eggs and suspects her mother’s hens are trying to ruin her life. She has to work with them because they have roles in her movie, but she doesn’t trust them!

 

It looks like you’ve got a sequel lined up. Can you tell us about it? Are there more to come after that?

There is a sequel, and I’m thrilled because I recently finished final revisions on it and sent it off! It’s entitled, Kate Walden Directs: Slug Man from Mars. In this story, Kate’s classmates can’t wait to be in her next production…until a know-it-all new boy shows up who also likes to make movies. Kate hopes to impress him with her vast movie-making knowledge. Instead, they become rivals. But can Kate’s slime-spewing sci-fi flick beat the new boy’s gritty crime drama? The film wars are on!

I haven’t heard anything yet about additional books, but I certainly hope there will be more!

 

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, what would it be?

In my story, Kate and her friend Alyssa have a huge fight and Kate is sure their friendship is over. She even does some mean things to get back at Alyssa. I hope readers take away that friendships are important and despite the confusion and frustration they sometimes cause. Even if mean things are said or done in the heat of a fight, just saying I’m sorry can go a long way toward healing hurt feelings. And, of course, if we want our friends to forgive us, we have to be willing to forgive them, too!

And if I’m allowed a second thing, it would be that it’s great to dream big, but you have to work hard to make your dream come true, and you can’t give up when obstacles get in the way. Kate runs into big problems trying to make her movie, including her fight with Alyssa, but she doesn’t give up trying to finish it.

 

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed KATE WALDEN DIRECTS: NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIE CHICKENS?

The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes, is for a slightly younger audience but I think readers will really enjoy the quirky humor. The Wig: Crazy Summer by Renata Suerth is funny and a great story, and Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald is also loads of fun. There are so many good books out there right now that it’s hard to pick just a few!

 

What’s your favorite thing about middle-grade fiction (as a reader or a writer)?

I love that middle-grade fiction is more complex than early readers but more innocent than YA. Middle grade is perfect because it’s right in the middle. It doesn’t have to deal with boyfriend-girlfriend drama in the same way that seems to be expected in YA these days. MG characters might have similar concerns as YA characters, like friendships, family problems, a crush, but those themes can be treated in a lighter fashion. I love that middle grade readers are perceptive and smart and can read about weightier issues as long as they’re handled well. In fact, I think they appreciate real characters with real flaws. That’s why I love writing middle-grade fiction, and I love reading it for the same reasons.

 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle-grade fiction?

I would advise reading A LOT, but especially new middle-grade fiction. Reading the old classics is great, too, but it’s important to study current styles to see what young readers like and what publishers are buying. I wrote a middle-grade fantasy novel before Kate Walden Direct: Night of the Zombie Chickens (it’s still sitting in my drawer!) and I didn’t follow my own advice. I wrote it in a style similar to middle-grade fantasies I had read as a child. After finishing it, I did the research I should have done earlier and realized that style was dated. Even worse, I read an agent’s description of overused plot elements she didn’t want to see, and almost every element was in my story!

I think it’s also essential to become a member of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). SCBWI provides valuable information and classes, as well as great networking and learning opportunities through their conferences. It’s a wonderful way to meet other authors, gain access to agents and publishers, and make friends!

Thanks Julie!

Julie has generously offered to give away a Zombie Chicken signed copy of Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens. Enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 Jacqueline Houtman  learned her way around the insides of a chicken at the University of Delaware. Her next book is a middle-grade biography of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Quaker Press).