Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker, by Deborah Hopkinson, was published in 2004 by Scholastic.
Hear My Sorrow is very similar to Dreams in the Golden Country, detailing the lives of an immigrant family (Italian rather than Jewish) in New York City right after the turn of the century. However, while Dreams was a bit more of a hodge-podge in regards to its balancing of key events and ideas, Hear My Sorrow really brings those ideas to the forefront while still retaining an individual feel to the voice of Angela.
Hear My Sorrow discusses labor unions, the clash of cultures in NYC and the representation of those cultures in the unions, factory work, and, of course, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in US history. It also deals with family, as well, with the tight-knit Denoto family and their Italian background.
Hopkinson highlights many reasons why girls (and other
workers) joined strikes, as well as why they became “scabs”—strike breakers who
went back to work during a strike. This is especially apparent in the tension
between Angela and her sister Luisa, and with the rest of her family, as Angela
stays on strike while Luisa returns to work to help provide for the family. Hopkinson
also touches on the conflict between school and work as she describes how many
girls had to drop out of school to earn money so their families could survive.
The description of the fire itself is brutally clear for a children’s book. Hopkinson only barely softens the edges by leaving out graphic details; otherwise, every horrific moment is described through the eyes of Angela, who can barely realize what is happening (another softener, but again, just barely). The descriptions of the girls jumping out of the windows because there was literally no other option for them also brought to my mind the memory of the World Trade Center burning on 9/11. Not an image Hopkinson was consciously trying to bring to the surface, probably, but the resonance made the scene even more powerful.
In terms of describing history, Hear My Sorrow is one of the more successful Dear America books in
its detail and depiction of the period. There’s a little bit lacking in terms
of story and voice, but the book packs a lot of punch and is one of the more
vivid and memorable entries in the series.
Speaking of Mr. Leroy, he and Elijah share some of the best “page time” of the book, starting with Mr. Leroy lecturing (to put it nicely) Elijah on the use of a racial slur that slipped out of Elijah’s mouth (“You thinks just ‘cause that word come out from twixt your black lips it mean anything different?”), teaching a valuable lesson about language, the way it can be used to dehumanize others, and how an important step in freedom is also freeing oneself from the use of words that were only used to malign. Then there’s the adventure Mr. Leroy and Elijah go on towards the end of the book, culminating in Elijah running into some runaway slaves, realizing how much different it is for blacks (slave or not) in Chicago than his life in Buxton. Curtis does a fantastic job of showing the stark contrast between slave and free.
The antagonist of the story is the Preacher, though
there’s a good argument to make that the main antagonist is slavery itself.
Anyway, my curiosity was piqued by the Preacher, a conman who immediately
ditches his conning when his target reveals his racism (or, at the very least,
his insulting pandering), but then steals his friend’s money and runs away to
Chicago, where he proceeds to gamble it away. What happens to him is dreadful,
and Curtis makes it clear that no matter the Preacher’s sins, he didn’t deserve
what he got.
of Buxton is a fantastic book, showing stark contrasts between
slave and free, black and white, that existed in the 1850s. The only reason I
didn’t rate it a 5 is because of the pacing—the beginning is far too long, and
the ending is far too rushed. The summary also didn’t help with my perception
of the pacing, either, promising me a far longer adventure than what was
actually delivered. I also didn’t feel as if the Preacher’s motivations were
developed very well. However, Curtis manages that fine line between brutal and
child-friendly in portraying slavery, though it’s probably not suited for kids
A City Tossed and Broken: The Diary of Minnie Bonner, by Judy Blundell, was published in 2013 by Scholastic.
This Dear America tackles the San Francisco earthquake
and subsequent devastating fire in 1906. Also, since these revamped books seem
to focus more on an overarching plot than most of the older ones, there’s also
Minnie pretending to be the daughter of the rich family she was working for after
the deaths of the entire family.
For the historical aspect, I thought Blundell did a
good job of showing the devastation of the earthquake and the fear that
followed when fire destroyed half the town. She also hinted at, and explained
further in the historical notes at the end, the corruption that ruled San
Francisco during that time.
For the story aspect, it was…all right. I thought the
story was rife with convenience and dumb decisions made for the plot, however.
Like the whole Lily/Minnie switch, which rested entirely on a technicality and
a very well-timed dress change. At least the buildup, and follow-up, to that
was explained well. Then there’s Minnie’s time as Lily, which was okay—most of
what she did was believable, up until the end when she said, “I’m going to tell
Mr. Crandall,” and then never did for some reason that was never explained or
I did like the overall theme of family and sticking together, and Blundell does a good job of showing the difference between trade/”new” money in society, and inherited “old” money, as well as class (and racial) conflict. However, A City Tossed and Broken is missing some sort of spark to really make it sing, to make it stand out and make me say, “Now that’s a Dear America book!” So far, I still think the revamped books are subpar at best.
The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman, was published in 1995 by Clarion.
This is it, folks. The last Newbery Medal left in the pile (until next year, that is). It’s taken me about a year and a half to get through them all, but I’ve done it. I remember at one point I was trying to go chronologically, but somewhere along the way I said “nah,” and just started pulling books off the Newbery shelf at my library. This particular reading goal is over, which means…on to the next!
There have been a few medieval settings in the Newberys that I’ve read. They’ve ranged from serious to silly to poetic. The Midwife’s Apprentice isn’t serious, but it’s not really silly, either. It’s the story of Brat/Beetle/Alyce, the titular midwife’s apprentice, and her gaining self-confidence as she learns that she isn’t just a waif found on the side of the road. Cushman’s take on the medieval setting accurately portrays a lot of things, like all the various jobs, the beliefs and customs of the time, though I’d argue that Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!is far more educational in that regard. The midwife’s antics are especially eyebrow-raising, but it shows just how unknowledgeable the medieval world was in terms of medicine.
I like how the midwife in the book isn’t a loving,
sweet person. It’s a bit cliché to have Alyce learn to appreciate her strengths
and skills in that setting. Instead, Jane Sharp belittles and degrades her, yet
even so Alyce finds her place and seeks to be successful. It shows that even
when the people around you aren’t the stereotypical kind and caring people, you
can still grow and become kind and caring yourself.
Since this is the last Newbery, next week I’ll be posting a Top Ten list of the books I thought were the best of the best, the ones that really, truly deserved that award. To be honest, I think that might be a bit of a struggle for me, but we’ll see!
Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 1998 by Scholastic.
I would rank Dreams in the Golden Country on the middle-upper scale of Dear America books. It accomplishes so much more than similar immigration stories like So Far From Home; it talks about immigration (and even describes, very briefly, the Northern Ireland and Ireland conflict, as well as Catholicism versus Protestantism), labor unions, factory work, and even suffragism. And of course, it deals with the transition from a predominantly Jewish culture to one that is influenced by many religions and cultures.
Not being Jewish, I don’t know how good Lasky was at
communicating Jewish beliefs or history. It fits with what I’ve read and heard
about, so nothing jumped out at me as being overwhelming inaccurate. I liked
the way Lasky showed both the Jewish people, like Papa, who seemed to enjoy the
freedom a new country gave them in their religion and the Jewish people, like
Mama, who wanted to hold on to the traditions for as long as possible. It made
for some interesting conflict as well as some potential for discussion over
keeping traditions and culture in a new place.
The main flaw with this book is the way Lasky
continually plays up the “golden country” aspect of the novel. I don’t doubt
that many immigrants viewed it that way, nor do I necessarily disagree with
that idea or with what Zipporah felt in the book, but the way it was handled in
the book was clunky and felt a bit too orchestrated, like Lasky was putting it
in there because of the “Dear America” on the title, rather than as a natural
extension of Zipporah’s thoughts and feelings.
Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, by Katherine Woodfine,
was published in 2015 by Egmont.
However, the story itself was a bit tepid. The
characters are not developed enough, and so though on paper the four of them
are quite interesting, in “the flesh” they lack a little oomph. Sophie is
spirited, but flat; Joe is mysterious, but flat; Billy is…something; Lil is
funny, but flat…you get the picture. And it doesn’t help that the mystery is
framed in such a way that all four characters have to do something that
stretches just beyond the bounds of believability. At least in Sophie’s case,
part of it is mentioned as part of the villain’s ultimate plan—the fact that
she was able to figure out so much stuff was solely due to the fact that she
was placed in the exact room with all of the information and the secret door
leading to the hiding place of the stolen goods, something another character
points out as suspicious for the villain to have done without an ulterior
motive (and thank goodness for that because otherwise that would have been the
epitome of plot convenience).
However, the others get no such excuse, and so we have
Lil lurking in corners and somehow never being discovered despite her lack of
ability to be nonchalant or secretive about anything, and Billy successfully
switching papers because no one even bothers to check that the envelope he
handed over was the right one, and Joe being…well, being not really anything at
all except the person who tells them about the Baron.
I mean, I’m sure for the audience that is intended, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is
probably quite exciting and sufficiently mysterious, and the characters are interesting (if flat). But for me,
the solving of the mystery and a lot of the action relied way too much on plot
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz, was published in 2007 by Candlewick.
I read a book a few months ago that described just how brutal the medieval life was, and this book captures that in a way that’s still suitable for children. Schlitz includes footnotes and other things for some of her references, but mostly the information is communicated directly through the poem, whether it’s the glassblower’s apprentice trying to blow glass, the glassblower’s daughters wondering whether they will marry said apprentice, a runaway villein, the miller, a knight…Schlitz expertly shows the hierarchy and class conflict that existed in the medieval days. Even religious tension is shown.
The book does do a great job of communicating lots of
things about the medieval period, which means it’s full of dirt, dung, babies
and mentions of birthing, the feudal system, and other things that may not be
suitable for younger children. Schlitz also includes brief “essays” about
various things in the medieval period, such as Jewish/Christian relations and
the Crusades (which is unfortunately one of the worst takes on the Crusades
I’ve read). Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is
a good way to get an overview of the medieval period, and a much more
interesting book of poetry than some others I’ve read.
Across the Rolling River introduces Charles Ingalls and his family to the series, and young Charlie is just as boisterous and expressive as Pa Ingalls from the Little House books. It also shows us his family, who end up so close to the Quiner family (there are three Quiner/Ingalls marriages in total: Caroline, Henry, and Eliza marry Charles, Polly, and Peter respectively). Also appearing in this book are Mr. Carpenter and his son Charlie (who marries Martha eventually), who haven’t appeared since the third book, Little Clearing in the Woods.
This book really is starting to accelerate Caroline’s
development and love of learning. We see her desire to be a schoolteacher, with
the influence of her teacher, Miss May, as well as her budding attraction to
Charles Ingalls (though she’s only 12 in this book). We also see the
pearl-handled pen of the Little House books, as this book details how Caroline
came to get it.
I didn’t feel this book was as exciting or interesting
as On Top of Concord Hill, but I
liked the introduction of the Ingalls family as well as the exploration of
Caroline’s desires and wishes. The author switch seemed smooth, which can be
hard to accomplish even for a children’s book. All in all, not my favorite
Caroline book, but one that sets up a lot of things for the next two books.
Coal Miner’s Bride has a terrible title, but the book is
definitely one of the more relevant Dear America books, describing “mail-order
brides,” immigration, mining, strikes, and labor unions, as well as taking
place leading up to and during the events of the Lattimer massacre, where
workers on strike were shot and killed by sheriffs.
“Mail-order brides” is perhaps not the best term to
use for this particular marriage arrangement described in the book. Bartoletti
describes how many immigrant coal miners would marry off their daughters to
fellow workers—when their daughters weren’t even in America. Anetka is in
Poland, with its culture steeped in Judaism and arranged marriages, when her
father promises her hand to another worker in Pennsylvania.
Besides being one of the more interesting
historically, A Coal Miner’s Bride also
has one of the better protagonists with a good development throughout. I loved
Anetka and her determination, her courage, and her desire to love and be loved.
Her attempts to make her marriage to Stanley be a happy one despite the lack of
love are poignant, and all of her feelings that come about before, during, and
after the major events of the novel are relatable and realistic. I have a soft
spot for protagonists who want to love and want to be loved in return, yet who
doubt that they will ever truly find joy.
I do wish that some of the things that happened at the
end had been delivered a bit better. The book’s last quarter is very quick,
with strikes and unions and retaliations happening one right after the other.
The author also spends a lot of time in the historical notes talking about an
event that didn’t even show up in the book, as if that was the real story she
wanted to write and she was stuck writing this one instead. However, after a
few disappointing Dear Americas, A Coal
Miner’s Bride shone, with its relevant and interesting look at immigrants
and coal mining and its delightful protagonist, Anetka.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Warnings: Anetka is married, but manages to wave away certain particulars of married life by claiming privacy.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is like Anne of Green Gables, except with less charm and less fun shenanigans. Rebecca is imaginative, spunky, lively, and bright; everyone seems to love or admire her. She daydreams, speaks (and writes) poetry, has a forceful personality, wins people over with her charm, and is all together dazzling. Wiggin attempts to give her flaws, but those are quickly brushed aside in order to emphasize all of her good qualities.
I speak as if I didn’t like the book, though I did. I
simply think Anne of Green Gables came
along a few years later and accomplished what I think Wiggin meant to
accomplish with this book. Despite the fact that Rebecca is practically perfect
in every way, I found the book charming and sweet. I especially adored Adam
Ladd, and Rebecca and Aunt Miranda’s relationship.
Speaking of Adam Ladd, I thought for quite a long time
that the book would end with some sort of romance. The book is old and dated,
so for many people the age gap and the circumstances might be bothersome.
However, I’ve read too much Jane Austen—and I know that Wiggin is representing
reality back then (girls got married young, and sometimes they got married to
men far older than they). So, I wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or
pleased that the book ends with almost a destruction of the Adam/Rebecca
relationship: not through a fight or anything like that, but simply through
Adam’s realization that Rebecca was still a child (though there is a hint that
in the future something could happen).
I read Rebecca
of Sunnybrook Farm and almost immediately thought of Anne of Green Gables, which perhaps wasn’t quite fair to Wiggin
because I expected wit and charm along with my dreamy protagonist (though
Rebecca isn’t quite as dreamy as Anne), and got a little bit of charm with no
wit or comedy. The book takes itself very seriously, and though I enjoyed the
story, it did start to grate towards the end and I started wishing for
something fun to happen.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Warnings: Adam Ladd is 34 at the end of the novel, and Rebecca is 17, but the romance is presented in such a way that it will probably fly right over younger readers’ heads.