Monthly Archives: June 2009

Uprising

Uprising, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned down, killing 146 garment workers, mostly woUprisingmen, mostly immigrants, and of an average age of 19. The largest industrial accident ever in New York City, this incident is in every U.S. History textbook. This fire changed the idea that in a free country, government could not regulate business. Locked doors, decrepit fire escapes, short fire ladders and hoses that couldn’t spray water high enough prevented the workers from finding safety.  This tragedy shocked the nation and spurred the recognition of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

This is what students will learn in their textbooks. But in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s book of historical fiction, readers will get to know the people who lived (and died) around this event. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is so much more than a story about government regulation of business. It is a story about the irony of the American dream. People came (and still come) to this country to have the freedom to find a better life. So often, the pursuit of that better life has meant finding a way to profit handsomely from someone else’s labor. Such was the case with the institution of slavery, with indentured servitude, and with factory labor. One hundred years after this fire, remnants of this irony still tear at this free nation’s dream.

Haddix has been a popular author in my middle grade classrooms. Her Shadow Children Series, futuristic fantasy about population police hunting down illegal third children, was well-liked and read avidly by both boys and girls. So far I have given Uprising to a few ninth grade girls. Even though they were not fans of historical fiction, they all  really liked this book. One of them commented that it didn’t matter what the genre or the subject matter was, really good writing can make any book worth reading.

When students ask why they have to study history, they are told they need to understand history in order not to repeat it. Well-written historical fiction like Uprising delivers that understanding by giving young readers fully dimensional people who lived the history. Appropriate for readers as young as sixth grade, Uprising is a book I would recommend for anybody who likes to learn something about history while reading a great story.

Gaby Chapman

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Filed under 6-8 Grade, 9-12 Grade, Enjoyable for parents, Fantastic!, Historical Fiction

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I survived high school.  I even look back on it fondly.   Normally just unusual, it is a miracle considering that during the time I was there nine kids died in car accidents and an equal number (that I know of, I’m sure there were more) either had babies or abortions. These were not kids that I had just heard about.  These were my good friends.  In retrospect, I realize that my escaping alive and without at least one pregnancy under my belt is akin to running through a minefield unscathed. There were only 200 kids in our entire high school.

Perhaps that is why I am already bracing myself for my daughters turn to walk through that battlefield.  However, yesterday I read a book that gave me a little hope.  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is exceptional.  It is well written, engaging, funny and heartbreaking.  But, most importantly I believe that it will save people’s lives.  It is written as a journal of a freshman girl, Melinda, who is coping with the shame and burden of an acquaintance rape.  That makes it sound grim, but it is not.  It is so well written, and so perfectly captures the essence of high school, that you find yourself simultaneously laughing while desperately worrying about Melinda.

In the early chapters, I was alarmed at the prospect of my daughters reading this book.  Then I glanced at the back where Ms. Anderson has a one page blurb about book censorship.  She so articulately expressed the importance of having our children use books to learn and talk about the real challenges they face, that I felt enlightened.  I realize this book will help, not just girls, but all kids learn to ‘Speak’ about some extremely difficult issues that no adult led discussion could.  She says, “Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.”  I’m just grateful that she managed to express this very painful truth of the world in such an accessible and engaging way.  I’m not going to give this book to my nine year old yet, but I will definitely have her read it before she enters high school.  Laurie Halse Anderson is my new favorite author of all time, and she isn’t even writing books for me.  I recommend this book to any adult who is not totally afraid of reliving a part of high school.

– Jessica Wheeler

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Filed under 9-12 Grade, Easy Read, Reluctant Reader