Monday, January 14, 2013

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909

Booklist starred (November 15, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 6))

Grades K-3. In the winter of 1909, a brave girl named Clara Lemlich, only five feet tall, picketed for workers’ rights. She arrived in America along with hundreds of other immigrants from eastern Europe, hardly speaking any English. But instead of her father being hired, it’s Clara the factories want, and off she goes to make women’s clothing in a garment factory from dawn till dusk. The conditions are appalling: “If you prick your finger and bleed on the cloth, you’re fined. If it happens a second time, you’re fired,” and more. While the men at the factory don’t think girls are strong enough to strike, Clara proves them wrong, eventually leading the “largest walkout of women workers in U.S. history.” Markel’s informative text buzzes with details of the oppressive conditions and neatly plays up Clara’s can-do spirit, but she perhaps tries to cover too much territory, and as a result, omits some crucial explanations (e.g., why can’t Clara’s father get hired?). However, Robert F. Sibert Medalist Sweet (Balloons over Broadway, 2011) creates punchy, vibrant collages that make up for any shortcomings. The zingy images masterfully (and appropriately) incorporate fabric and stitches as well as old images of checks and time cards. One particularly moving picture is seen from above as row upon row of workers toil away. A detailed note about the garment industry and a selected bibliography conclude. This book has fighting spirit in spades—you go, Clara!

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