Our highlighted book today has been in the news. Last week Publisher’s Weekly announced Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and its Legacy by Albert Marrin is a finalist for the 2011 National Book Awards in Young People’s Literature. It has also been nominated for a Cybils in the MG/YA nonfiction category.
Written to be released right before the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire which occurred on March 25, 1911, Flesh & Blood sets the scene by describing a spring day at Washington Square (with a bit of foreshadowing in mentioning that it was built over a cemetery) where Frances Perkins was visiting one of her friends. Suddenly they saw smoke rising from a nearby building and heard fire engines. Racing to the scene, she became one of the witnesses to the horrible Triangle Fire that killed 146 people. It was New York City’s worst workplace disaster until 9-11, involving mainly immigrant women working under sweatshop conditions in a garment factory.
Marrin then travels to Europe to investigate why and how the immigrants had arrived in New York City. Most came from southern Italy or were Jews from Eastern Europe. Both were fleeing racism and poverty, although the southern Italians also experienced natural disasters that drove them from their homelands.
He follows immigrants in their often sordid journey to New York City. Leaving the boat at Ellis Island, most faced low-paying jobs and living in cramped tenement buildings. People had already begun to protest the horrific conditions of many of the factories when Marrin leads us back to the events of the fire, which he now recounts in shocking detail.
The remainder of the book follows the reforms that were eventually passed. Frances Perkins, who was introduced in the first chapter, was one of the leaders of the reform movement and becomes the first female cabinet member as Secretary of Labor for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The final section is an overview of modern day sweatshops, found throughout Asia. In an even-handed way, Marrin investigates not only the problems with these factories, but also the fact that people that work in them find the alternatives even worse.
How does Flesh & Blood stack up against the other historical accounts I have been reading for Cybils, for example Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal or Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos? Marrin has done a very competent job of covering the events. While reading, however, I got the impression he took up this book as an assignment. Somehow it lacks the passion or heart of the other two books, which makes it less memorable for me.
Regardless, Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and its Legacy is definitely going to be a talked-about book this year.
Have you read it? What do you think?
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (February 8, 2011)
Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. For more information and a schedule, stop by the new Nonfiction Monday blog to see who is hosting each week.
This week’s post is at Simply Science.