by Pat Hughes. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004. ISBN 0374309566. Order Info.) Novel. 256 pages. Grades 5-9.
Twelve-year-old Nathan Tanner has been kicked out of yet another boarding school to return home to Hazelton, PA. His mother died several years ago and his father has remarried. His family owns one of the coal mines and Nate makes friends with some breaker boys -- boys who work sorting coal in the mines. When the boys become part of a strike at the mine, Nate's loyalties are torn.
Hughes brings us into a coal mining town at the turn of the century through the eyes of Nate Tanner, the middle son of a family of mine owners. Nate sees himself as unloved and unwanted. He's been kicked out of several boarding schools where he's been rejected by students and faculty alike.
Back in Hazelton for the summer, Nate's stepmother, Anna, tries to reach out to him as does his older sister and one brother, but Nate's response is largely in anger. Nate does like baseball, however, and it's through baseball that he makes friends with Johnny and some other breaker boys. The classism is evident as Nate lies to the boys about his own family, knowing that they would reject him if they knew who he was. He gets to know and appreciate their immigrant families and envies the open love and loyalties there even as he is horrified by the way they must live and work. He lies to his own family about where he goes each day, knowing that they would forbid it.
Nate's grandfather is the patriarch of the family and holds a hard line in dealing with the miners, refusing to deal with the union leaders because they are not his employees.
Things come to a head when a strike is called and Nate learns that the sheriff has deputized and armed people to break the march. The resulting Lattimore Massacre actually did happen and an author's note explains its significance and the results of that terrible day.
Stotts, Stuart. Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin (Big Valley Press, 2005 ISBN 0976537206. Order Info.)
A quiet fictionalized biography about the work of Lutie Stearns in bringing boxed sets of books which circulated from town to town around the turn of the century providing the first free libraries many communities had ever had access to. A good nonfiction companion to novels and picture books set in this time period.
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