This was an excellent historical novel. It tells the story of the 1912 textile workers strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, from the perspective of two children. Rosa is an Italian-American girl who goes to school. She loves learning and is doing well. Her family clearly make sacrifices for her to continue her education (although she is only 12). Her living conditions are brought to life in considerable detail. Jake is an American boy of roughly the same age (maybe a bit older) who works in the mill. His father is a violent drunk and Jakes life is very difficult. We read the book together as a read-aloud and I enjoyed it thoroughly as did Tigger.
The story follows each of the children providing a plausible narrative of both their lives and how they intertwine. The story has considerable emotional depth and I found it very believable. It is set in Lawrence for the first half and then moves to Barre, Vermont, where children of the strikers were hosted by local union members during the strike. The contrast between the living conditions in the two places is striking. Continuity is provided by having Rose and Jake hosted with an Italian-American family.
It is clear that considerable historical research was done and the fictional stories of these two children are woven into the factual narrative with great skill. A historical note is provided at the end of the book and the acknowledgments provide a list of books that the author consulted. As such the book would make a good addition to studies of American history for topics such as labor history, immigration, industrialization, and child labor.
Rose’s faith is quite important to her and the story could also be used to open up discussion of faith and dealing with difficult times, charity, and forgiveness. The character of Mr. Gerbati would be particularly interesting on these latter topics as well as opening up discussion about whether socialism and Catholicism really are incompatible. (This is raised in the book in different ways.)
When I was looking for a link for the book for my earlier post, I found some other useful resources related specifically to this book. The teacher’s guide on the publisher’s website is very good. I like the questions and activities. They seem to get into some deep issues that could really spark interesting discussions. I also found an activity on the Sharing Understandings website. Scroll down to “Electronic Scrapbooking”. There is a link to a powerpoint with photos of the strike and some of the historic characters that appear in the novel. Too bad it doesn’t include the photo of the children outside of the Socialist Labor Hall in Barre, Vermont that the author said inspired her to research this story. They also link to other resources. History of the strike at Mass Moments and at Teaching Tolerance.
Picturing Modern America has some related resources on industrialization and child labor.