Review: Audacity by Melanie Crowder


Audacity by Melanie Crowder

Told in masterful verse, this is the story of real-life heroine Clara Lemlich who led the largest strike by women in the history of the United States.  Born in Russia, Clara was forbidden any education because her devout Jewish father did not approve.  When her family emigrated to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, Clara was required to go to work to support her family while her father and brothers dedicated their lives to prayer.  Clara got work in the garment industry, discovering horrific working conditions and refusing to just accept them.  Clara worked to get women workers taken seriously by the male-driven unions and for their plight to be incorporated into union strikes and negotiations.  Along the way, she also used the public library and free classes to teach herself English.  Anyone wondering if one person can truly make a difference in a larger world has only to read this book to be inspired to action.

Crowder’s poetry here is completely amazing.  From one page to the next, she captures the incredible spirit of this young woman and her desire to educate herself.  When she finds something to fight for, she is unstoppable, fearless and unbeatable.  Crowder also ties Clara to nature, even in among the tenement buildings of New York City.  She is a small hawk, a flower in the concrete, she herself is the force of nature in the city.

Just the descriptions of the horrific beatings that Clara withstood on the streets and the picket lines would make most people quit.  But Crowder makes sure to depict Clara as a person first and a hero second.  It makes what she did so much more amazing but also encourages everyone to realize that they too have this within them if they are willing to take on the fight.  This woman was a heroine in such a profound way, unsupported by her family and willing to use all of her free time to make a difference, she is exactly what the modern world needs to have us make change now.

Strong, beautiful and wonderfully defiant, this book is an incredible testament to the power of one woman to change the world.  Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel.

Review: Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos

saving lucas biggs

Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

When Margaret’s father is sentenced to death, she can’t believe it since she is certain he is innocent.  But this is what happens when someone tries to stand up to the company that owns the entire town.  It’s also the company that owns Judge Biggs.  The only way that Margaret can see to save her father is to change Judge Biggs’ mind.  According to Grandpa Josh, her best friend’s grandfather, Judge Biggs used to be a good person until his father was accused of murder and hung himself.  The only person who can change the course of time is Margaret who has to use her family’s forbidden power of time travel.  But history resists change and Margaret only has a few days before history rejects her to make the necessary changes to save her father.

De los Santos and Teague have written a book that takes on time travel in a very refreshing way.  The idea that history actively resists change and that there is a physical toll on the time travelers makes for frustrating time travel.  Yet it feels right and also creates tension in the story at just the right moment.  The authors also explore company towns and how workers tried to stand up to unfair business practices.  Here there is plenty of action in that fight, including murder and gunfire as well as quiet desperation. 

Margaret is a winning character, one who travels in time very reluctantly but is given little choice when she is the sole person who has a chance of saving her father.  The story dives into complexity, never making things easy or simple.  One aspect of this is the way that redemption is viewed.  Characters are seen as changeable, able to be rescued from what happened to them even in their elder years.  This book is about getting chances to make the right choice in the end, forgiveness for poor choices earlier, and friendships that stand through time and betrayal. 

A rich and vibrant look at time travel, this fantasy will also appeal to history buffs.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Review: Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

brave girl

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Clara Lemlich and her family came to America planning to find jobs, but no one will hire her father.  The factories did want girls like Clara though, and so she started working in the garment industry.  She worked from dusk to dawn in rows with other young girls, sewing as fast as she could.  If they were late at all, they lost half a day’s wages.  If they pricked their fingers and bled on the cloth they were fined, if it happened again they were fired.  The doors were locked, there was no fresh air, and the girls were inspected when they left to make sure they weren’t stealing anything.  But Clara would not be held down, she went to the library and learned English, teaching the other factory girls on their lunch break.  Then Clara learned about unions and strikes, though some thought the girls were not tough enough to strike.  So began her transformation into a union leader, through beatings and hunger, these girls and Clara are the people we have to thank for fair hours and pay. 

Markel tells the story with a strong heart and a certain thrill.  Readers get to see a quiet girl get off of the boat and steadily transform through self-education and pure tenacity into an amazing person who had strength and energy enough for several people.  Markel manages to tell the story of the times without dedicating much of her brief story to background.  Instead she uses the situation at the mill to speak on their own.  She ends the book with more information about the garment industry, giving facts and figures about how many girls were working there and the abuses they suffered.

Sweet’s illustrations are a treat.  Her paintings are turned into collage with the addition of various textiles and trims.  On one page the buildings of New York are painted and then enriched by trimmings, stitches and swatches of material.  On another the painting is smaller and then framed by material.  Clara herself is often wearing a look of determination on her face, usually with a fist clenched as if ready to do battle at any time. 

This is a wonderful picture book biography about a heroine that children can related directly to, since she is so young.  It is also a very timely read with labor under such pressure right now.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.