Recommended for ages 7-11
Eight year old Aidan and his friend, Gussie, want to go to school, but they have to work instead, to help their families. When the millworkers go on strike, Aidan and Gussie join the picket line; that’s when they meet Mother Jones, a feisty activist who wants to take action against child labor. She organizes a children’s march that will take them all the way to President Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home in Oyster Bay, New York!
In 1903, child labor was a harsh reality for many children like Aidan and Gussie. Instead of going to school, children toiled for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, in factories; they experienced unsafe conditions and many were injured, disfigured, or even died doing their work. On Our Way to Oyster Bay is a fictionalized account of the very real story of activist Mother Jones’ March of the Mill Children, beginning in Pennsylvania and going all the way through the streets of Manhattan, ending up on President Roosevelt’s Oyster Bay lawn. While the President refused to meet with Mother Jones and her brigade, the march raised awareness of child labor, leading to the 1904 formation of the National Child Labor Committee.
On Our Way to Oyster Bay is a great story for younger kids about a period in history that doesn’t get as much love as it should. If you ask any given kid you encounter whether or not they know Mother Jones, you’re likely to get a blank stare, and that needs to be remedied. We still work in a world where child labor is a reality for many – I constantly remind kids that kids have fought and died for the right to go to school and do the same things they complain about every day – and a book like this lends itself to some important discussions about our own history of child labor and unsafe conditions, as well as the chance to brainstorm some ideas about what kids can do to help other kids around the world. Being a CitizenKid book – an imprint I love – there’s loads of information about child labor, suggestions for getting involved, and discussion points. Kids Can Press has a winner with this imprint; the books bearing the CitizenKid stamp empower kids to learn about the world around them and to take action, just like the kids in their books do. These books give them the information and the tools to take action, putting the power in their hands.
The artwork is vibrant, with movement coursing through the illustrations. The march through Manhattan thrums with activity, and I found myself bouncing up and down on my seat as Mother Jones made things happen! This is great for a read-aloud or a read-alone, but it needs to be read. Add this to your collections, read it to your kids, and make things happen. Talk about social justice, everyday activism, and being a good citizen, globally and locally.