Posted by: montclairlibrary | February 28, 2019

Kids’ books about strikes and labor

With many Oakland school kids continuing to be out of school this week due to the teachers’ strike, I thought it would be a good time to explore some kids’ books about the labor movement, to provide some background for kids on why unions and strikes are important and the role they’ve played in American history.

Children's books about strikes and organizing, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

When I sat down to make this list, I thought it would be mostly non-fiction inspired by events like the Shirtwaist Fire, the Haymarket Riot, the farm workers’ movement and other famous labor events. But it turns out a lot of the picture books we’ve been reading all along actually deal with the power of people (or cows, turtles or crayons) banding together to confront injustice. Picture books can be a great way to introduce younger kids to these concepts in a way that’s easy for them to understand:

Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin (J PICBK CRONIN)
Ages 4-8
Although Cronin treats the story humorously, it’s actually a brilliant illustration of the power of collective bargaining. When Farmer Brown’s cows find a typewriter they start making demands, and go on strike to get what they want.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt (J PICBK DAYWALT)
Ages 3-7
Duncan arrives at school one morning to find his crayons have gone on strike, leaving him a stack of letters detailing their grievances about how he uses them.

Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss (J PICBK SEUSS)
Ages 5-9
Dr. Seuss’s stories often display a strong sense of justice and rights for the little guy, including the turtle Mack, who refuses to be squashed (literally) by the dictatorial king Yertle.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni (J PICBK LIONNI)
Ages 3-7
A little fish shows the other little fish that they can defeat the bigger fish who want to eat them by sticking together.

Si Se Puede/Yes We Can: Janitor Strike in L.A. by Diana Cohn (J SPA PICBK COHN – not at Montclair)
Ages 3-9
When Carlitos’s mother and the other janitors go on strike for higher wages, Carlitos and his class make signs to support them. Based on an actual strike that took place in 2000.

Side by Side/Lado a Lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chavéz / La Historia de Dolores Huerta y César Chávez by Monica Brown (J SPA BIO HUERTA)
Ages 7-10
“Describes how the contrasting personalities and longstanding partnership between labor leaders Dolores Huerta and César Chavéz contributed to the victories of the United Farm Workers in their efforts to improve conditions for migrant workers.”

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel (J 331.892 MARKET)
Ages 4-8
The true story of immigrant Clara Lemlich, who helped organize the influential 1909 women laborers’ strike (also known as the “Uprising of the 20,000”) to protest the unfair working conditions in New York’s garment district.

That’s Not Fair!: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice / ¡No Es Justo!: La Lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la Justicia by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca (J SPA BIO TENAYUCA)
Ages 6-9
“Biography of Emma Tenayuca, who, in 1938, led 12,000 Mexican-American workers in a strike for better wages and living conditions.”

The Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold McCully (J PICBK McCULLY)
Ages 6-9
“A ten-year-old bobbin girl working in a textile mill in the 1830s must make a difficult decision — will she participate in the first workers’ strike in Lowell?”

For older readers, you might try some of these non-fiction titles and fictional chapter books based on actual events:

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop! The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan (J 331.892 DUNCAN – not at Montclair)
Ages 9-12
Recounts the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his final speech to strikers the night before his assassination, and details the perseverance of strikers before and after his death.

Kids On Strike! by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (J 331.892 BARTOLETT)
Ages 10-13
“Describes the conditions and treatment that drove workers, including many children, to various strikes, from the mill workers strikes in 1828 and 1836 and the coal strikes at the turn of the century to the work of Mother Jones on behalf of child workers.”

The Pullman Strike of 1894 by Rosemary Laughlin (J 331.892 LAUGHLIN – not at Montclair)
Ages 11-14
“Describes the events leading up to and occurring during the lockout and strike of railroad workers working for the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1894, and its impact upon American labor unions.”

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson (J FIC PATERSON – not at Montclair)
Ages 9-13
“Jake and Rosa, two children, form an unlikely friendship as they try to survive and understand the 1912 Bread and Roses strike of mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts.”

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan (J FIC RYAN)
Ages 10-13
When Esperanza and her mother are forced to flee their home in Mexico and become farm workers in the United States on the eve of the Great Depression, they find themselves living and working in harsh circumstances. “Some workers try to organize the laborers to strike for better living conditions and pay, but the glut of workers coming to California in 1935 dooms their efforts.” (The Book Report Reviews 2001) This book isn’t exclusively about the labor movement, but it does explore some of the background on a personal level.

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix (eAudio book)
Ages 12 and up
In this fictional story based on the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, the narrator “reluctantly recalls her experiences at the…factory, including miserable working conditions that led to a strike, then the fire that took the lives of her two best friends.”


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