Sep 2, 2012

Labor Day? What's THAT All About?

What's Labor Day?

  • Long weekend, followed by back-to-school
  • Unofficial end of summer
  • Traditional rummage sale weekend in my neighborhood
In these days of high unemployment, attacks on unions, and 1% protests, this holiday celebrating laborers might seem a bit incomprehensible. 

A good place to begin to gain some insight is at the US Department of Labor site. Read just a few paragraphs about how this holiday came to be some one hundred years ago. I'll wait...

Peachtree Publishers, 2003
Moving on from there, reading some examples of children's literature on the topic of labor history makes a fine next step. If you're looking for a memorable picture book with something of value for any age  you need look no further than THE PRINTER, written by Myron Uhlberg and illustrated by Henri Sorensen. A fictional story, many details reflect the lifelong work of  the author's profoundly deaf father. The story unfolds in the printing room of a major newspaper. The enormous presses created overwhelming noise so deaf workers were often best suited to the task. They were not always treated respectfully by their hearing co-workers, despite their excellent work and contributions to an important community service. In this story it is the deaf workers' ability to use sign language to communicate over the roar of the machines that warned everyone to escape from a raging fire. 
Check here for a Kirkus review of The Printer.

Mason Crest Publishers

Many useful nonfiction titles are produced for classroom purposes, some of which are quite excellent in content and quality. One title in the series, Overcoming Adversity: Sharing the American Dream, is CESAR CHAVEZ, by Brian Baughan. It provides a comprehensive and accessible narrative of his life, of the plight of migrant laborers, and of changes over time as a result of organizing. 

Two other titles geared to the youngest readers are LABOR DAY, by Carmen Bredeson (a Rookie Read-About Holidays title) and LABOR DAY, by Robin Nelson, a First Step Non-Fiction title from Lerner Publications.

Enslow Publishers, 2008
Older readers might find stories based on early labor inequities to be as dramatic and page-turning as any modern fiction. Here are just a few:

THE LOCKET: Surviving the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire by Suzanne Lieurance. This is one of many intensely personal and heartbreaking stories based on the actual events leading to the organizing of unions for garment workers in New York City in the early 1900s.

FIRE IN THE HOLE, by Mary Cronk Farrell. A boy's view of his father's life as a miner in 1899 breaks his heart, especially knowing he can anticipate  the same future.

Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

Last, but by no means least, is the incredible Katherine Patterson's BREAD AND ROSES, TOO.
Here you'll find reviews from School Library Journal and readers as well. Jen Robinson's post offers an even more comprehensive review of this masterful storytelling of actual events.

So, what is Labor Day anyway?  
Why not consider it an invitation to share history through some terrific books? Any titles you'd like to suggest for this list?

A quick return to the subject of picture books:  Take a moment to read Jen and Kellee's post celebrating the power of picture books. I couldn't agree more with their succinct notes about the benefits of picture books for readers of all ages and many purposes.

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