Thursday, July 07, 2005

Industrial Growth in the Antebellum North

(Whenever possible, a review is included with each featured title. Remember to check back often, as these recommended reading lists will be updated.)

The Bobbin Girl, by Emily Arnold McCully (Dial Books for Young Readers, 1996)
A ten-year-old bobbin girl working in a textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1830s, must make a difficult decision - will she participate in the first workers' strike in Lowell? (Lexile - 600)

Publishers Weekly Review: Caldecott Medalist McCully (Mirette on the High Wire) spins an engrossing, fact-based tale with feminism and fair labor practices at its heart. Ten-year-old Rebecca supplements her family's meager income by toiling as a "bobbin girl" in 1830s New England. She is one of the thousands of girls and women who endure 131/2-hour days in the stuffy textile mills of Lowell, Mass., the City of Spindles. Rebecca sees first-hand the courage of her co-workers, who all share a dream of building a better life with the money they earn. She also observes the illnesses, injuries and anxiety caused by the harsh conditions and callous mill owners. When a decrease in wages is announced, the mill girls rally to stage a "turn out" (strike) and protest their predicament. McCully deftly weaves feminist themes into her spirited text, and her meaty author's note places her story in context. Her characters speak of self-reliance and education; they read and attend lectures whenever possible. The courage and ambition these role models inspire in Rebecca are palpable. Rough-edged watercolors, frequently awash in gray light, convey the often oppressive mood of an industrial town of the time. The shawled and bonneted women and an abundance of other period details add further historical depth. Ages 6-9.

City of Light, by Lauren Belfer (Dial Press, 1999)
The exploitation of Niagra Falls to generate electricity leads to a murder involving members of Buffalo's ruling class. The heroine is a high-society school teacher who investigates and through her eyes is seen the conflict between industrialists and environmentalists of the day. A first novel.

Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson (Puffin Books, 1992)
Impoverished Vermont farm girl Lyddie Worthen is determined to gain her independence by becoming a factory worker in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1840s. (Lexile - 860)

Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel, by Leslie Connor, illustrated by Mary Azarian (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)
Miss Bridie emigrates to America in 1856 and chooses to bring a shovel, which proves to be a useful tool throughout her life.

School Library Journal review:
School Library Journal Review: PreS-Gr 3–Instead of a pretty keepsake as a reminder of her homeland, the practical Miss Bridie selects a shovel to accompany her to a new life in America in 1856. Once in New York City, she uses it to plant flowers, which she sells to supplement her income from the millinery shop where she works. The implement is employed in a variety of ways over her lifetime, including clearing a pond for ice skating, digging postholes for fences on the farm she shares with her new husband, planting seeds for an apple orchard, and adding coal to the stove to keep her children warm. Azarian's accomplished woodcuts and watercolor illustrations adroitly convey the determination of a strong woman who lives a good, but often not easy, life. Through one or two sentences per page, the story shows her fortitude as she experiences the highs and lows of life, confident in the knowledge that, with her shovel, she can succeed at anything through her own ingenuity and hard work.–Maryann H. Owen, Racine Public Library, WI (Reviewed May 1, 2004) (School Library Journal, vol 50, issue 5, p108)

So Far From Home: the Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847, by Barry Denenberg (from the Dear America series, Scholastic, 1997)
In the diary account of her journey from Ireland in 1847 and of her work in a mill in Lowell, Massachusetts, fourteen-year-old Mary reveals a great longing for her family. (Lexile - 710)

Warp & Weft, by Edward J. Delaney (Permanent Press, 2004)

Zellie Blake: Lowell, Massachusetts, 1834, by Kathleen Duey (from the American Diaries series, Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002)
Zellie is unhappy working for Mrs. Gird. A happy turn of events leads her to employment and a new life with Miss O'Brien.

School Library Journal review:
Grade 4-6-Zellie, orphaned and homeless, goes to Lowell to seek work. Unable to get a job in one of the mills because she is African American, she finds work as a domestic at one of the boarding houses for the mill girls. The book opens and closes with short entries from her diary, and in between chronicles her crisis of conscience. Mrs. Gird has asked Zellie to spy on the boarders, as they are preparing to walk off the job in an attempt to stop a threatened reduction in their wages. Zellie's sympathies are with the girls, but she desperately needs her job, and has no references that would help her find work elsewhere. Remembering the things she has learned from her grandmother, she finds her own way through the conflicting sides to a safe haven and a real home. Descriptions of daily life and chores and of the newly industrialized city of Lowell provide a sense of time and place without overwhelming readers. The plot moves along briskly, and the coincidences that occasionally drive it are believable. Zellie is a 12-year-old with spirit and intelligence, and though there is little development of other characters, the people she interacts with are more than stereotypes. Entertaining historical fiction.
Elaine Fort Weischedel, Franklin Public Library, MA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

To learn more about the author, visit Kathleen Duey...Books for Children and Young Adults:

Recommended Nonfiction

Never Done: a History of American Housework, by Susan Strasser (Pantheon, 1982)