Sunday, August 05, 2007

Counting On Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop

Summer Read-Alouds

Wingnut and I read one or more books outloud at bedtime every summer. This year we read Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop. I chose this book because it was the Vermont Reads 2007 selection of the Vermont Humanities Council. The Barton Public Library handed out copies of this book to anyone that cared to read it. I picked up our copy months ago when I attended the library movie night in May. Vermont Public Radio broadcast readings of the entire book earlier in the year, which I missed (there is an audio CD available). However, on September 29 there will be a VPR Vermont Reads Day focused on this book.

Counting On Grace is the story of a 12 year old French Canadian girl who lives with her poverty striken family in Vermont in the early twentieth century. The entire family works at a fabric mill and as each child reaches the age of 14 they are expected to work in the mill to help support the family. However, corrupt enforcement of the weak child labor laws enabled children much younger to work in dangerous, life-threatening conditions. Winthrop (click on this link to read her blog) uses this family to detail not only the conditions in which these children lived but also the remedy. Winthrop introduces us to the photographer Lewis Hine, whose photography helped reform the child labor laws in the United States.

This is an excellent book. I was concerned that the story would not keep the interest of an 11 year old boy but there was enough action, injustice and gore to keep him asking for more. The gore in the book is entirely appropriate and is needed to document the conditions under which these people worked and lived. As you know, Wingnut has become an excellent photographer, so the descriptions of ancient photography methods fascinated him.

I expected Counting On Grace to be another bland look at life one hundred years ago. I'm glad I was wrong. There are dozens of topics a teacher can integrate throughout this book in language arts, science, history, technology and mathematics. I am always very careful and skeptical of integrating mathematics with literature because the mathematics curriculum topics in literature usually are not rigorous enough or are below grade level standards and expectations. I think this is probably because of most authors' fear and/or lack of knowledge of mathematics. But Elizabeth Winthrop doesn't flinch. Careful planning and integration with the mathematics curriculum can enhance and expand the understanding of the conditions described in Counting On Grace.

Now if only I could get Wingnut back for the VPR Vermont Reads Day.

Remember: if you buy this book now by clicking on the book image or on the title, I will get paid. Then I can buy my Canon Rebel XTi (and give my little Kodak Z710 point-and-shoot to Wingnut).

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1 comment:

  1. Child labor is very sad indeed - there's nothing more gloomy than to watch a poor kid working in hazardous conditions instead of being at home or school!


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