Review of Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children
by Jonah Winter; illus. by Nancy Carpenter
Primary, Intermediate    Schwartz & Wade/Random    40 pp.
2/20    978-0-449-81291-4    $17.99   g
Library ed.  978-0-449-81292-1    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-449-81293-8    $10.99

Creating a first-person narration (partly adapted from the labor activist’s letters and speeches, as explained in an introductory note on the copyright page), Winter introduces readers to Mother Jones: “My name is Mother Jones, and I’m MAD. And you’d be MAD, too, if you’d seen what I’ve seen.” Winter focuses mainly on the activist’s work against child labor at the turn of the twentieth century, outlining the long hours, physical dangers, and low pay the children endured (while outside “the birds sang and the blue sky shone”). After visiting factories, notifying newspapers, and leading protests, Mother Jones decides to lead the child workers on a march from Philadelphia to Oyster Bay, New York (President Theodore Roosevelt’s “fancy-schmancy Long Island summer home”). Throughout the text, frequent capital letters and bold fonts emphasize Mother Jones’s strong message. Carpenter’s watercolor and digital illustrations, created from a palette of blacks, grays, and tans, emphasize the dismal conditions and only begin to lighten as workers unite into unions. As the march progresses, she begins to include more color, culminating in a bright tableau when the children reach Coney Island and experience the pleasures there. That only three children make it all the way to Oyster Bay does not signal failure; the Children’s Crusade paved the way for reforming child labor laws. The theme — that progress is worth fighting for and may not show immediate success — is there for the taking. Front and back endpapers showcase some of Mother Jones’s precepts, such as “No matter what your fight, don’t be ladylike”; the book concludes with an author’s note providing more information on Jones, and a bibliography.

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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