Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Blood & Flesh So Cheap

YA nonfiction
The cover of Blood & Flesh So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its
Legacy by Albert Marrin sent chills down my spine. It shows rows of
young women working industriously at sewing machines in a factory. In
the lower right hand corner menacing flames are superimposed on the
picture. It wasn't that the Triangle Factory fire was news to me. As
a progressive, I read voraciously about the evils of corporate greed
past and present. But you know what they say about a picture being
worth a thousand words. Those girls, some to die so painfully and
needlessly, looked so much like my own beloved daughters.
No one really knows how the fire got started. It happened late
in the afternoon at the end of a shift. People tried frantically and
futilly to put it out. The hose on the stairway wall was dry--having
not been connected to a standpipe. Elevators were soon put out of
action. Stairways were blocked. A fire escape collapsed. Singly and
in small groups, women, many with hair and clothes on fire, began
jumping from windows to certain death on the pavement below. One
hundred forty-six workers died that day. No New York City workplace
disaster exceeded this fire in carnage until the 2001 terrorist
attacks on the World Trade Center.
Needless to say, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire shocked New
Yorkers and people all over America. It was decided that never again
would such workplace devastation happen. A commission found horrific
conditions in a wide range of factories and sweatshops. It was
decided that government could mandate safe working conditions in mills
and factories.
In America things have changed a great deal. This is not the
case in the third world nations where many of our consumer goods are
now manufactured. In Bangladesh, for instance, there was a factory
fire very much like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire...in 2006. In
Marrin's words, "...short memories and greed are a deadly mixture."
Flesh & Blood So Cheap is obviously well researced with a wealth
of information on the history of the fire and the people whose lives
were claimed by it, the social and political issues of the time, and
the long lasting consequences of this tragic event. The wonderful
balance between individual narrative and larger story makes this book
both readable and informative. The pictures are riveting, a couple
heartbreakingly so.
The title is perfectly chosen. And it should raise a question
as relevant now in 2012 as it was in 1911. When we Americans clamor
for cheaply produced goods, spurred on by media's selling frenzy,
should we not become aware of their far higher hidden costs?
Shouldn't this awareness spur and empower us to fight for the safety
of our sisters and brothers around the globe whose blood and flesh are
still far too cheap?
On a personal note: Joey Cat passed his check up with flying colors.
He's the picture of feline health and securely attached to his adopted
mom, me. :-)
A great big shout out goes out to Dennis Kucinich, a tireless advocate
for working class and poor people. These days he's in a shrinking
minority in government. He's my top pick for president. Hope springs

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The Junkyard Wonders

Picture Book.
There are precious few authors who can publish prolifically over
a period of decades and still make each book something special.
Patricia Polacco is one of the few with that special combination of
creative spark and consistancy. The Junkyard Wonders is yet another
shining star in her literary constellation.
Trisha wants to spend the school year with her father and
grandmother in Michigan. In California where her mother lives the
other kids know she was a late reader. She's tired of being special.
She just wants to be a regular kid in a regular class.
In her new school, however, it seems like nothing's changed.
Two girls give her strange looks when she shows them her class card.
Her new classmates seem different. And her teacher welcomes her
students to the Junkyard. It's the catch all class for students with
Early on in her class the students are sorted into tribes.
Tricia's fellow tribe members become her best friends. Their
individual strengths give each an important, distinct role in their
Mrs. Peterson, the teacher, gives her students ways to shine.
This is lost on the "normal" kids who consider them weirdos and
retards. After one especially abusive playground encounter that
leaves Tricia and her friends feeling like throwaways and junk, Mrs.
Peterson takes her class to see what a junkyard really is: "...a place
of wondrous possibilities."
Mrs. Peterson instructs her class to form into their tribes and
look through the junkyard for anything that can be transformed into
something else. Toward the end of the field trip a boy in Trisha's
group sees a wrecked model airplane and decides that they can turn it
into something wonderful, something that can fly all the way to the
moon. Does this happen? You'll just have to read the book to find out.
It comes as no surprise that the book comes right out of
Polacco's childhood. She did indeed get diagnosed with dyslexia and
yearn to be, "a regular kid in a regular class.". She did learn in
real life Mrs. Peterson's class that "normal" was not all it was
cracked up to be. She and the other junkyard kids in her clan went on
to careers far more astounding than probably those of the regular kids
who looked down on them.
There is one paragraph in the book that holds a message we all
need to hear these days.
"But every day Mrs. Peterson reminded us, 'Some people look at
things the way they are and cry, "Why?". But I want you to look at
things and see what they could be and cry, "Why not?"'"
There is plenty to make people cry "Why?" in today's world:
climate change, economic inequality, tens of thousands of Americans
dying of curable diseases every year for lack of health insurance,
factory food production...or, in my school board vice chairperson
case, drastically dwindling funds for public education. Why won't get
us all that far though. We need to liberate at least part of our
brains to the why not mindset. Granted it comes more easily to
dreamers like me. But if the majority of us could move in that
direction just a smidge...therein could lie our salvation.
I'm sure Patricia Polacco would be with me on this.
On a personal note, I had the most wonderful time last Saturday
decorating the Orono Library lawn with snow angels and a dear little
snow kitten.
A great big shout out goes out to all the beautiful people in our
world working from a why not mindset and all those with open minds who
have the potential to join them.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Many Hands

Picture Book
What do you think of when you imagine a basket? An upscale
offering of a preppy company, maybe filled with pricey goodies? A
plastic container for Easter egg hunt loot? A hamper like holder for
picnic food? Chances are you think of something generic and mass
Far more lovely baskets are crafted by Native Americans such as
Maine's Penobscots. Natural materials are utilized. The craft is
passed down through generations. Even the most simple and functional
and simple basket is a true work of art. My friend, Angeli Perrow,
has crafted a beautiful tale about this communal, non industrial
The book opens as a young girl, Lily, seeing a dragonfly on her
hand and remembering its symbolism as the spirit of departed loved
ones, finds herself missing her beloved grandmother. She remembers a
special story they shared while weaving baskets. Not surprisingly,
she dreams about her grandmother creating a lovely basket with a pink
When she wakes up Lily remembers the dream vividly enough to
recreate the basket. She thinks it's the most beautiful one she's
ever made. She is very disappointed when her mother, cousins, and
uncle only say, "Very nice," and remind her that, "Many hands make the
Lily goes to the pond and watches dragonflies. One lands on her
basket. She realizes what her family had been trying to tell her.
Although she was the one who made the basket, they had put a lot of
work into preparing the materials. She thanks them and creates a
dragonfly to place on her basket.
Heather Austin's illustrations, water color I believe, perfectly
compliment the text. A beautifully crafted dragonfly practically
flies off the page. Lily's brown eyes shine with excitement. But my
two favorite pictures are the hands ones. In the dream sequence
Lily's grandmother hands her a water lily transformed into a basket.
At the end you see a circle of the hands of her family members
touching her very soecial basket in a stunning visual representation
of the book's theme.
On a personal note: I loved Adam's February vacation and Katie's
birthday. When it comes to kids I've been blessed.
A great big shout out goes out to my dynamic dragonfly lady, Rose
Thompson. Rose juggles family, work, and school board and makes it
all look manageable. She helps me keep things in perspective. When I
thought the washing machine (which we can't afford to replace) was
broken, she had me laughing with her descriptions of old style wringer
machines and scrubbing clothes on the river bank. She is also very
good at motivating me. Some day when I become a published book author
I'll owe a debt of gratitude to this very classy but down to earth lady.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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