Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 (Women's History Month)

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel,
illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  Balzer + Bray, 2013.

I now have a huge stack of picture books checked out from the library solely on women's history or famous women in history.  It's a very cool stack.  And the first book we chose from this pile came out earlier this year.

Brave Girl tells the story of Clara Lemlich, a young Jewish-Ukrainian immigrant, who went to work at a shirtwaist factory shortly after her arrival in the United States.

 Despite her deplorable working conditions and long hours, Clara studied late at night to better educate herself.  She finally joins a union, spurring the women and girls in her factory to fight for their rights.  They picket, facing beatings and arrests.

But this isn't enough to change conditions at all the garment factories.  Clara believes that workers from all the factories in New York need to strike.  On a stage at a large union meeting, Clara calls out in Yiddish for all the workers to walk out of the factories.  This leads to the "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand," a massive strike by workers from garment factories all over New York.

The successes gained by the strike drives Clara to travel to other large cities to help workers there fight for better working conditions.

The text is clear and easy to follow, while age-appropriate in content.  It is only in the "More About the Garment Industry" section that follows the story that Michelle Markel mentions the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the tragic circumstances of which helped move the labor movement's cause.  Grown-ups may be interested in watching the PBS American Experience video about that event, or reading the book Triangle: The Fire that Changed America by David Von Drehle [Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003].

Melissa Sweet's illustrations are quite beautiful.  The paintings look like they have been stitched along the sides, echoing the sewing of the women in the book.  

Big Sis was quite taken with Brave Girl.  She loves stories of girls and women standing up for themselves and others.  I did have to spend time discussing what words like "union" and "strike" meant, although the first word I had to explain, right out of the gates, was "shirtwaist."

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins), 2013.

Our next couple of books for Women's History Month are not quite as serious as this one.  We have an architect and a painter to read about!

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