Children's Books

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NOVEMBER 24, 2006
Counting on Grace: A Novel by Elizabeth Winthrop
This is an excellent historical fiction novel. This is the story of Grace, a 12 year old girl, who lives in Vermont, during the early 1900s. She is of French Canadian descent, and her family works in the mills. The mill owners have great power in Grace's town. They own the housing in the town, and give the mill workers free housing in exchange for working in the mill. Grace goes to school, but one day she talks back to her teacher, and is kicked out of school. Later on, Grace regrets being kicked out of school. The day after she leaves school, Grace starts at the mill, as a "doffer." A doffer is one who replaces full bobbins with empty ones as the spinning machines turn the cotton into thread. Grace soon realizes that working in the mill is much harder work than schooling. Grace is left-handed and it makes working the machines even more difficult for her, and she is much slower at her work than her sister, Delia. Grace's mother, is very disappointed in Grace. Grace would like to go back to school, but realizes that her family needs the money more. She and her friend, Arthur, who has also left school to work in the mill, both miss school. Arthur tries to devise a plan so that he can not work in the mill anymore. Eventually, Grace and Arthur, get extra schooling on Sundays, from Miss Lesley, the school teacher. Miss Lesley is greatly opposed to children so young working in the mills. With the help of Grace and Arthur, she writes a letter to the National Child Labor Committee. Unfortunately, this action causes Miss Lesley to be fired. Shortly after they send off the letter, Lewis Hine, a photographer, comes to take pictures of children in the mill. He tells Grace and Arthur that these pictures will help to enforce laws so that children will not have to work. Children should be in school, getting an education. They should not be forced to work with heavy duty, dangerous equipment. This story is full of both courageous and horrific moments. In one scene, Arthur is so desparate to leave the mill, that he deliberately puts his hand into a working gear shift. He loses two fingers as a result. Grace is very sad to see that Arthur has done this to himself. Grace realizes how much the mill has taken away from Arthur. Eventually, Grace, too, wants out of the mill. She does become the school teacher, and the reader hopes that Grace will have a better life. This is a very gripping story, that realistically portrays with what dangerous conditions that childen had to work. In the back, there is further history of Lewis Hine's work, and more information about the photograph on the front cover. This would be a very good book for children in grades 6-9. An excellent read!

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