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

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909
by Michelle Markel; illus. by Melissa Sweet
Primary     Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins     32 pp.
2/13    978-0-06-180442-7    $17.9

The plight of early-twentieth-century female garment workers is brought to life in this biography of labor leader Clara Lemlich. To escape persecution in their native Ukraine, the Jewish Lemlichs immigrated to New York City, where young Clara quickly found work in a shirtwaist factory. Outraged by the dangerous and unfair working conditions, Clara successfully instigated a citywide strike. In her simple but powerful text Markel shows how multiple arrests, serious physical attacks, and endless misogyny failed to deter this remarkable woman as she set off on her lifelong path as a union activist. Clara’s story is accentuated by Sweet’s vivid illustrations, many of which are presented on fabric scraps or torn paper with borders of machine stitching. Particularly riveting is a bird’s-eye view of a factory floor filled with hundreds of workers set opposite a series of spot illustrations highlighting some of the dreadful conditions the women endured (including being locked in during the day — the cause of the horrific Triangle shirtwaist factory fire deaths). For those wanting to know more, an author’s note and source notes follow the story.

From the January/February 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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About Monica Edinger

Monica Edinger, a fourth-grade teacher at the Dalton School in New York City, blogs at Educating Alice and the Huffington Post. She is the author of Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad (Candlewick), illustrated by Robert Byrd.

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