May 9, 2013

Brave Girl by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:00 am by suebe2

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

by Michelle Markel
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Balzer + Bray
AR 5.0

“A steamship pulls into the harbor, carrying hundreds of immigrants — and a surprise for New York City.”

Clara may be only a girl but she is the one to get a job to support her family.  Instead of carrying books to school every morning, she carries a sewing machine to work.  Yes, she had to supply her own sewing machine.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, these girls who make only a few dollars a month are locked into the garment factories all day long.  Fines, firings and more.  The girls suffer great indignities to hold down a job.

But Clara isn’t like the other girls.  She goes to school in the evening.  She is full of ideas.

The workers know they are being treated badly, but the few men don’t think the many girls and women could hold up in a strike.  They simply aren’t tough enough.

When they are overworked, underpaid and punished for speaking out, Clara encourages the girls to strike and the girls at her factory do.

But owners and police strike back with fists and clubs.  Clara is arrested 17 times.  They break six of her ribs.

The bosses find other young women to do the jobs for the same low pay.  A strike at one factory isn’t enough, but the male union leaders are afraid to call a general strike.  It is too dangerous.  Instead, Clara gets up at the front of the hall and, speaking in Yiddish, she calls for a strike of every single factory.

The next day thousands of women walk of the job.  It doesn’t solve every problem, but it is a beginning.

Michelle Markel has boiled down a complicated, tumultuous period in U. S. history to make a tightly knit picture book story.  It is complemented by Melissa Sweet’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations which bring a historic feel to the story which, in many ways, could take place today.

With the collapse of a factory in Bangladesh and the struggle of workers worldwide for safe working conditions, this is a particularly timely book.  It would make a strong jumping off point for group discussions on history, current events and human rights.


September 24, 2012

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:47 am by suebe2

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau
by Michelle Markel  and
illustrated by Amanda Hall

No one told Henri Rousseau that he could paint.  In fact, he already had a job as a toll booth operator.  But the forty year-old had a dream.  He bought canvases, paints and brushes and started to paint.

He painted because he loved nature. Because he couldn’t afford lessons, he studied on his own.  He studied the paintings of other artists.  He studied photographs to learn anatomy.  He didn’t study the rules about painting, he simply painted.

But the art critics hated his work.

Not to worry, Rousseau simply had to paint and that’s what he kept right on doing.  Eventually, his work caught the attention of several very young artists.  These young artists were also rule breakers and they disagreed with the critics.  In fact, one of them, Pablo Picasso, holds a banquet in Rousseau’s honor.

Markel’s straightforward text brings Henri Rousseau to life for a new band of young art and nature lovers, and isn’t that appropriate since that it what Rousseau himself was?  A lover of art and nature.

Amanda Hall’s watercolor and acrylic paintings duplicate the simplicity and vigor of Rousseau’s art. In fact, she does it so well that they immediately brought to mind several of Rousseau’s paintings that I had seen long ago.

Not sure this book is right for your young reader?  It is amazing just how inspirational Rousseau’s story is.   Here is a man who did not give up on his dreams even when the critics told him to stop.  They asked him if he painted with his feet.  They compared his work to that of cavemen.  This is definitely a man that children will identify with and, who knows, he may click with you, the adult reader, as well.

A vibrant, engaging read about a great artist.


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