There's no shortage of picture books about firefighters, zookeepers, bakers, and other high interest jobs. Plenty of books too about teachers and librarians- since they play such a vital role in the daily lives of children. It's rare to find a title, however, that points out the ways workers are connected or mutually dependent on each other.
"Who comes to the rescue when the fishermen run aground at 5 a.m.?" is a question posed in Jessica Hartland's Night Shift (2007).
The book describes the work of donut makers, late night djs, bridge painters, window dressers and ten other evening workers-each of them related in some way. (The donut maker sells a donut to the fisherman, who is later rescued by the tugboat captain). At the end of their shift the workers gather at an all night cafe- and it's nearly morning. Hartland's book has much to offer- it celebrates workers and "community", it's interactive, and the illustrations are lively and cheerful.
And now, for older readers. I was recently astonished to come across the title, You Wouldn't Want to Be a Victorian Mill Worker!
one of a British series published in the states by Franklin Watts (2007).
Author John Malam engages the reader and supplies plenty of detail:
"Gray smoke covers the town like a dirty blanket and blocks out the sunlight. You've moved in with an Irish family that lives in the district called Little Ireland- a rat-infested slum along the banks of the River Medlock. There are 4000 poor people here, and your landlady and her family live in the cellar of one of the houses. ...Welcome to your new home!"
It's grim but dramatic stuff- and though the colorful cartoonish illustrations (complete with scowling mill managers) may seem at odds with the subject matter- they'll attract and keep the attention of the target audience. (The book does end on an upbeat note- a couple of years after a strike, a government factory inspector's report leads to new restrictive child labor laws...) This title, paired with a traditional photo illustrated book about child labor (such as Russell Freedman's Immigrant Kids), would be an excellent resource for teaching history and social responsibility.
Also in the series: You Wouldn't Want to be a Pyramid Builder, You Wouldn't Want To Work on The Railroads, and many more.
Other recommended books about work: Margaret King Mitchell's Uncle Jed's Barber Shop, Gary Paulsen's Work Song and The Tortilla Factory, Deborah Hopkinson's Sky Boys.
On a personal note: Melissa Sweet is currently in the preliminary stages of illustrating my book on Clara Lemlich, the firebrand who led the groundbreaking Shirtwaist Maker's Strike of 1909. I'm grateful to her, to my editors, and to everyone at Balzer & Bray who will be involved in the publication of my book in 2012!
Happy Labor Day
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