I did not realize why child labor laws came into place or how prevalent it was for very young children to have to work to support their families. Factory Girl by Barbara Greenwood puts a human face on the very real problem of the exploitation of children, specifically girls who worked in factories because they overlooked the child labor laws that prevented a child from working during school hours until she was fifteen.
I love the format of Factory Girl. The story of twelve-year-old Emily is told as a novel. The reader grows to love the character and aches in her struggle to do what she must do. The story helps illuminate and personalize the facts about child labor that are presented throughout. There are pictures and historical facts in between each chapter of the story. What a great way to make history come alive (for children and their moms as well). I compare this book to the American Girl Historical series, where the facts and the story are so intertwined that the reader doesn't realize that she is learning real history. Because the subject matter is somewhat harsh, I would not recommend it for a child much younger than eight, and a much older child would certainly enjoy both the story and the historical facts.
I had thought that Amanda, who is in third grade, would really appreciate this book, especially since her social studies unit for the year was on immigration, and focused on this time period. For a while, I couldn't get her interested, but once she read those first few pages she was hooked. The book was finished in two or three of her nightly reading sessions. I asked her what she liked about it. She was enthusiastic, but not very articulate: "The story. . . it was a really good story."
Coincidentally, I've just finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which takes place at the same time as Factory Girl. Francie ages from thirteen to fifteen overnight when she lies so that she can get a job. Just like Emily, she grieves over her loss of the dream of education.
Having a daughter who is almost nine, I realize that she should have more responsibility as far as chores around the house. I know that she could be doing more to pull her weight. But I am far more thankful that our culture (and our financial situation) allows her to enjoy her childhood a little longer.