Tag Archives: historical fiction

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. 

THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES Launch, Giveaway, and Time Travel Titles!

Do you love a little bit of time-travel/time-bending elements in your middle-grade books? We’ve got some great titles for you – plus we’re celebrating one of our very own Mixed-Up File-rs brand new Middle-Grade with Scholastic!

Time of the Fireflies_Cover

THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES is the story of a beautiful heirloom doll with a secret family curse, a bit of historical fiction from 1912–and time-slipping. The novel has received terrific reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal who said, “Haunting, well-constructed tale . . . A plot filled with suspense, adventure, and mystery. A perfect choice for lovers of ghost stories, historical fiction, or just a good yarn.”

Help Kimberley celebrate THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES by entering the Rafflecopter below to win a signed hardcover copy of FIREFLIES, gorgeous Book Club Cards, and a glow-in-the-dark firefly necklace like this one:

Fireflfy Necklace

THE-TIME-OF-THE-FIREFLIES-Book-Club-Guide.pdf

Watch the mysteriously spooky book trailer right here, too!

Time Travel Middle-Grade Titles – a Mix of New and Oldies!

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

The Infinity Ring series by James Dashner, et al

WARP, Book 1 The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer

Watcher in the Woods by Robert Liparulo

Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder

Nick of Time by Anne Lindbergh

The Last Snake Runner by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Here’s an even bigger list of MG and YA Time Travel books from Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/28181.YA_MG_Time_Travel

Let a book carry you away to another time and place!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Kimberley Griffiths Little’s best ideas come when taking long hot baths, but instead of a sunken black marble tub with gold faucets and a dragon-shaped spigot, she has New Mexico hand-painted tiles in her adobe home along the Rio Grande. She makes a lot of chocolate chip cookies when writing/revising.

Find Kimberley on Facebook. and Twitter:@KimberleyGLittl Teacher’s Guides, Mother/Daughter Book Club Guides, and book trailers “filmed on location in the bayous/swamps of Louisiana” at Kimberley’s website.

 

Interview with Gayle Rosengren–and a Giveaway

Fiona & Me

Gayle Rosengren (and Fiona)

About Gayle: Gayle Rosengren grew up in Chicago and majored in creative writing at Knox College.  She never outgrew her passion for children’s books, and she worked in the children’s and young adult services departments of  her local library for several years, enthusiastically sharing her love of books with young people.  After moving to Madison, Wisconsin, she worked first in the reference library and later as a copyeditor at American Girl.  She also published short stories in Cricket, Ladybug, Jack and Jill and Children’s Digest. Now Gayle writes full-time in her home outside of Madison, where she lives with her husband Don and their slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona. She is living her dream, she says, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children’s lives as her favorite books made in hers.   What the Moon Said is her first novel.

WhatTheMoonSaid_presales

 

From Indiebound: Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can’t keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther’s family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.

Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but that means there are plenty of opportunities for Esther to show her mother how helpful she can be. She loves all of the farm animals (except the mean geese) and even better makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck?  Debut author Gayle Rosengren brings the past to life in this extraordinary, hopeful story.

What the Moon Said is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Here is what the reviewers had to say:

“Rosengren, in her first novel, offers an intimate account of a family’s adjustment to country life and the hardships of the Great Depression. It’s easy to root for Esther, who makes the most of each day, wants little, and gives much.”  Publishers Weekly

“A coming-of-age tale gets to the heart of family dynamics in the face of drastic life changes in the earliest days of the Depression.”   Booklist

“…the story triumphs in its small vignettes…”  School Library Journal

“… Sensitive and tender.”     Kirkus

What kind of research did you do about depression-era Chicago and Wisconsin? What was the hardest part?  

I had heard a lot of stories about my mother’s  life on the farm while I was growing up, but it was all in very broad strokes. I needed to fill in lots of details, about life on a farm and especially about farm and city life during the Great Depression.  I first reached out to my mother and she was able to provide a few really nice details, but for the most part her memories were cloudy and unreliable.  So I moved on to books for a general sense of the times, and then I went to my computer to research more nitty-gritty details online.  The hardest part was not taking anything for granted. For example, I originally planned to have the two teachers at Esther’s school distribute candy canes on the last day of school before Christmas.  I suddenly wondered if they would have been wrapped in cellophane at the time, or if perhaps the teachers would have wrapped them in waxed paper. Asking my mother led to a vague, “They must have been…it wouldn’t have been sanitary if they weren’t.”  Unconvinced, I went to my laptop to research candy canes only to discover they weren’t even available to the public until the 1950′s!  Who knew?  So a quick change from candy canes to gingerbread men was immediately made to the manuscript.  I was incredibly relieved I’d caught the error before it made it into print.  All my careful research was nearly undermined by a candy cane!  But this taught me a lesson about research that I won’t soon forget:  Never assume!

Esther’s mother seems to have a superstition for every possible situation. Do you have any superstitions of your own? 

My grandmother lived with us from the time I was eight years old, so she instilled in me the same superstitions that “Ma” drummed into Esther.   Even as a child I had my doubts about the connections between my actions and good or bad luck, but there was no getting around the required actions:  you spill salt, you toss it over your shoulder; you never tell a bad dream before breakfast or –eek!–it will come true; you never put a hat on a bed or someone is going to die(!); and, of course, you never EVER bring an open umbrella inside the house.  There were lots more, but you get the idea.  To this day, I won’t bring an umbrella inside the house until it’s closed, even if I get wet in the process of closing it outside.  It’s silly, and intellectually I know this but even though I don’t really believe in them, I “honor” them rather than tempting fate.  (Which I guess sort of undoes my denial of belief!)  In terms of my own superstitions, I do have a few.  The most significant one is that I always wear my mother’s ring when I do an event about What the Moon Said.  Although my mom knew I had written a book inspired by her childhood and had even read an early draft, she passed away before it was accepted for publication. Wearing her ring makes me feel as if she’s with me, seeing how well her story is being received and how many readers have fallen in love with the character of Esther.  She’d be so happy to know that.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from What the Moon Said, what would it be?

That you should follow your heart–trust it to guide you when you must make difficult decisions, as Esther did in the book.

Why do you write middle-grade?

I write middle grade because I think it’s the most fertile ground for planting and nurturing a love of books.  So much is new to middle grade readers.  They’re wide open to all kinds of stories–fiction, non-fiction, biographies, fairy tales, historical fiction, contemporary, mysteries, suspense, silliness.  This time in their lives is when the vast majority of them will discover the joy and excitement of entering the world of a book and be started down the path to being life-long readers.  I love being a part of that very important adventure and discovery.

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

As with writing for any genre, but especially writing for children and young adults, the first step is always to read, read, read what has been published in recent years.  Especially read the award winners and the books on recommended reading lists at libraries.  The children’s publishing market is evolving nearly as quickly as everything else. Read to get a sense of what is out there already and to get some sense of the terrain.  Then forget about what you read and write your own story–not with the thought of making a fortune or a getting a movie deal.  Just with the hope that it will resonate with young readers.  Write from your heart with no other goal than to touch theirs.

Gayle is giving away a signed copy of What the Moon Said. Enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of The Reinvention of Edison Thomas. She is currently working on a biography of Bayard Rustin for young readers.