Inspired by her in-laws' recollections of working in coal country, Susan Campbell Bartoletti has gathered the voices of men, women, and children who immigrated to and worked in northeastern Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. The story that emerges is not just a story of long hours, little pay, and hazardous working conditions; it is also the uniquely American story of immigrant families working together to make a new life for themselves. It is a story of hardship and sacrifice, yet also of triumph and the fulfillment of hopes and dreams.
About the Author
Susan Campbell Bartoletti is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845–1850, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Medal. She lives in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Visit her website at www.scbartoletti.com.
Bartoletti has written a concise, thoroughly researched account of the often grim working and living conditions in Pennsylvania coal towns. An accessible writing style, as well as the abundance of stimulating information, makes for an engrossing historical account. Quotes from personal interviews with miners, as well as taped interviews and transcripts, provide a refreshing first person frame of reference. Horn Book
With compelling black-and-white photographs of children at work in the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania about 100 years ago, this handsome, spacious photo-essay will draw browsers as well as students doing research on labor and immigrant history. The story of these boys' lives are a part of Russell Freedman's general overview Kids at Work (1994) and of Betsy Harvey Kraft's biography Mother Jones (1995); but there's a wealth of personal detail and family story here that focuses on what it was like in the mines and in the homes and communities of these working children. Lewis Hines' famous pictures will grab readers, and Bartoletti has also gathered dozens of archival photos and heartbreaking oral histories. They show what it was like for eight-year-old breaker boys sorting coal surrounded by deafening noise and black clouds of dust, steam, and smoke; what it was like to be a mule driver underground; what it meant to be a spragger, a butty, a nipper. Drawing on personal interviews, archival tapes and transcripts, and a wide range of historical resources, Bartoletti finds heartfelt memories of long hours, hard labor, and extremely dangerous working conditions, as well as lighter accounts of spirited rebellion, mischief, and bonding. The immigrant experience is an integral part of this "coal culture": the strength of ethnic groups and the prejudice against them, and their banding together to form strong labor unions. As with most fine juvenile nonfiction, this will also have great appeal for adults.
Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
Bartoletti uses oral history, archival documents, and an abundance of black-and-white photographs to make turn-of-the-century mining life a surprisingly compelling subject for today's young people.
School Library Journal, Starred