Friday, July 29, 2011

When 2 Million Children Became Unemployed

Can’t get your kids to clean their room or take out the trash without grumbles galore? Maybe a session with this book will whip them into shape. Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor is a biography of Hines disguised as a 20th century photo documentary of how two million American children, some as young as three, where spending their long, dreary, hazardous days. It’s in fact brimming with his amazing photos of kids in coal mines, canneries, cotton fields and factories. I guarantee your child will be fascinated!

When we first purused this book, my daughter was about seven and still asking for me to peel her boiled shrimp. Then we saw the photo on page 42 of little four-year-old Mary who shucked two pots of oysters a day! Well, I was quick to point out, “Shannon, if little Mary could shuck all those oysters, you are certainly capable of peeling a few shrimp!” And she did.

It is a little eerie seeing eleven-year-old boys tend a blazing hot furnace with no adult supervision, so it may be crazy for me to say, but I can’t help but sense some pride in the faces of some of these capable children. Could twelve hour days have been scaled back to five hour weeks in lieu of cutting work out of children’s lives all together? Clobber me if you will, I'm just wondering. My son is 14 this summer and had high hopes of making money working at a marina near our house, but because of the child labor laws, he can’t be considered for employment until he is 16. My boy grew up around boats and helped bring a boat from the Bahamas to Florida in rough seas when one of the two adults on board was laid up with a bad back. He's earned his boating license, has several hours of flying time and scuba dives. He is quite capable of fueling a vessel, tying a line and helping passengers get their supplies on and off boats...but now he has to wait two more years in order to be paid for it.

On another note, we have a fig tree in our yard. It produced vast quantities of figs this year. My eleven-year-old daughter and her friends scrambled for every opportunity they could get to pick the fruit...because they loved doing it. I’ve heard that Georgia farmers were having a hard time finding fruit pickers this year because the state has scared illegal immigrants away. Why aren’t high school and college kids stepping in to fill the void? I remember my father’s tales of picking apples in upstate New York when he was a kid looking for a buck.

Well, I think Kids at Work will be a great conversation starter at your house too. The book sums it up this way:  “Hine’s images of working children stirred America’s conscience and helped change the nation’s laws. With his box camera and his sympathetic eye, he made a dramatic difference in people’s lives. In a real sense, the face of America never looked the same again.”

Ages 6 and up

Activity: For goodness sakes, learn how to peel your own shrimp:


  1. So glad to see you posting! Your picks are always the best- I went straight to my online library account and put this title on hold.

    It is interesting what you say about fruit picking- when I was 10-12 years old, I picked blueberries during the summer to earn money. Many of the kids in our farming town counted on that money (for me it was "extra"). I wonder if things have changed so that they can't do that anymore.

  2. Thanks for the compliment Lori. And as for blueberry picking...I'd do that every chance I could get...for long as I could eat some.

  3. Really interesting! I have two boys in the same boat. Wanting to make money...but not able to work because of all the laws. I just found your site this morning! I am looking forward to checking it out. Thank you :)

  4. I think you are so right. I feel bad for your son who wants to work but is restricted by his age. I personally think that it should be between the employer, the child, and the parent responsible for the child. Unless there are any concerns of abuse I think that child labor laws should be adjusted.

  5. I just stumbled across your wonderful blog! What a treat to see so much enthusiasm for teaching history to kids. Please consider linking up posts to my history and geography meme.

  6. Thank your for reviewing. I'm very curious about the book and will bring it into my favorite book list.
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