Pages: 122 pages
Finished: June 9, 2010
First Published: 1996
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Genre: non-fiction, children, history
In coal country, the workdays began before dawn.
Acquired: Bookmooched a copy.
Reason for Reading: Read aloud to my son as part of our history curriculum.
This book centres on Pennsylvanian coal country in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It also mainly focuses on the child workers though it doesn't exclude the men, nor the women back at home. The book is also profusely illustrated with contemporary photographs, some from the author's family as it was personal history that inspired her to write the book. During the author's research she listened to many interview tapes and read transcripts and has included many quotes from men who were once the boys described in the book. This makes for very interesting reading and brings the book closer to reality for the juvenile reader.
The book is incredibly thorough, going through all the different jobs involved in working at the mine. Then moving on to the company village and day-to-day life for the women and such things as scrounging for scraps of coal, the company store and school. Then the book moves on to recreation after working hours. A chapter on dangers and tragedies and common accidents prefaces a final chapter on the beginning of unionization and the big strike in Pennsylvania. A conclusion then follows up with the reasons coal mining ended as such a big industry.
While the book is centred on Pennsylvania, the majority of the information is general in nature and can be applied to anywhere coal mining took place in North America. The photographs are amazing and add volumes to the book's enjoyability. The text is narrative, interesting and while never written down to its audience does keep topics lively remembering who it's audience is. My son loved this book so much. Often when I read to him he will sit in another chair than me and I will hold the book up for him to look at pictures, or he likes to walk around the room but whenever I brought this book out he jumped up and ran right over to snuggle right next to me so he wouldn't miss the pictures. For myself, this is a topic I really knew little about and I enjoyed the book very much as well. A tremendously, enjoyable read about an industry once so important to everyday life and the terrible working conditions, child labour, and oppression workers had to face and in spite of it all they grew up to actually have fond memories and say it wasn't all bad. Highly recommended.