The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Occupy the Blog

This week, The Classroom Bookshelf is doing something slightly different. Rather than review one book, or even two on a related topic, we will discuss a constellation of books and resources and how to use them in the classroom. We want to honor the work of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Our intention is to create a blog entry that will help teachers discuss economic (in)justice with their students in a variety of ways, both historic and contemporary. It is impossible to be comprehensive on a topic this large; please consider this work to be impressionistic instead.
We use child labor often throughout the entry because it is a compelling topic for children, one that can be explored within other subjects, themes, and time periods often covered in intermediate and middle grade social studies curriculum. We also believe it is connected to the current inequity within our global economy and our national consumption of goods. Why are Occupy Wall Street protests bubbling up around the world? Where do items sold at Walmart, Target, Sears or JC Penny, and other big box stores come from?  How they are made?  Who is making them? Why are they “affordable” for us? How do our “affordable” prices impact wages and living conditions for workers, child or adult, around the world and here in the US? Because our students may wear clothes made overseas, because their parents may work at those stores, and because clearly, in this economy, we all need to consider every dollar we spend, looking at these issues through the lens of the past may allow children to discuss them in a more comfortable and “safe” way. Additionally, when the National Child Labor Committee was formed one hundred years ago, the United States had an income gap similar to our own. We hope that from the lessons of the past, your students can consider our present, and their future.
 Teaching Invitations        
Grades 3-5
  • Cesar Chavez. In small groups, have students read the various biographies of Cesar Chavez listed in the Further Explorations section. What are some of the ways that Chavez worked to change conditions for farm workers? How did he accomplish his goals? What are some of the problems farm workers and their families faced in the past? Are these similar to problems that farm workers may face today? How? Have students research articles about agriculture, government subsidies, and the overall US economy.
  • Lewis Hine and Child Labor. Have students explore a variety of photographs taken by Lewis Hine for the National Child Labor Committee, available from websites listed below (which dictate their individual copyright restrictions) in Further Explorations. Print out and laminate photographs and provide students with magnifying lenses, so that they can closely explore the historical backdrop. Create a graphic organizer for students to complete individually or in small groups, in order to prompt inquiry and build some prior knowledge. Questions to consider include the following: Where are they children? When might the photograph have been taken? What might the children be doing? Why? Who took the photograph and why? In each case, ask for the students to look for any visual evidence to support their answer, but assure them the process of inquiry is more important than accuracy. From there, have students in small groups explore specific chapters in Russell Freedman’s Kids at Work. You may or may not choose to introduce contemporary child labor, and the some of the digital resources or books included in Further Explorations.
Grades 6-8
  • Exploring Bread and Roses. Have students read the chapter on the Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 in Lawrence, MA in Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Kids on Strike! Next, have them read, or read aloud, Katherine Patterson’s Bread and Roses, Too, a historical novel told from the alternating perspectives of Rose and Jake, two children caught up in the events of the strike. Students might want to do further research on the Bread and Roses strike using some of the online resources listed in the Further Explorations section. Compare and contrast what happened to the children of the Lawrence community to what happens to children of striking workers today. What long term strikes have taken place recently? What can students uncover about what happened to the children in those communities? Anything? How are children participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement? How are families adjusting if one or both parents are involved?
  • Child Labor Today. Read aloud excerpts from Child Labor Today, and then read aloud or have students read Boys Without Names. Next, have students research information online from nonprofit agencies, newspapers, and magazines, starting with some of the online resources listed below exploring any or all of the following questions. What kinds of products are made by child labor? What price do we pay in the US for these products? How does the US economy benefit from these low prices? How do the economies of the nations where these factories are located benefit from these prices? Are these products worth the human toll they take? What might happen if adults were paid a fair wage to make these products, either in the United States or elsewhere? How is child labor connected to adult labor?
  • Vermont, Then and Now. When we think about the challenges of today’s economy and even those of child labor in the past, many may first think of large urban centers. What about the small, rural state of Vermont? Have some students read Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, about contemporary Vermont, and others read Counting on Grace, a historical novel about child labor in 19th century Vermont. What are some of the problems the characters and their families experience? How are the children impacted by parents’ employment opportunities and challenges? What are the similarities and differences between the books, despite the century between them?
Critical Literacy
  • A Critical Look at Public Protesting. The idea of public protesting appeals to many who believe it to be an effective vehicle to achieve social justice and equity. Yet many also organize and participate in protests for other reasons that, while sometimes related and sometimes important, are no necessarily central to the goals of the protest (e.g. to feel part of a historical event, to skip work or a class for a day, etc.). Such reasons require us to critically examine our civic responsibilities and not simply assume that all acts of protesting are noble or well intentioned. Inquire into the specific purposes and goals of various public protests through the last few decades, including various interpretations of Occupy Wall Street that are happening across the country. How clear, articulate, and/or feasible are their goals? Are there other ways to work toward those goals that are more effective than public protesting? What are the pros and cons of protesting, both collectively and individually? Finally, who gets to participate in them, and who doesn’t? Who is the “voice” of the movement and why? Many supporters of the same social justice causes critique public protesting, arguing that it is a vehicle for only those who are economically privileged and can literally afford to participate in them in the first place.
Further Explorations
Online Resources
Child Labor Public Education Project of the University of Iowa
New York Times Child Labor Resources and Information
International Labor Rights Organization: Stop Child and Forced Labor
Lewis Hine Photographs : The History Place
Lewis Hine Photographs: The Library of Congress
Lewis Hine Photographs: US Archives
Bread and Roses Centennial
Song of the Labor Movement from the Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Current Recession
Brezina, C. (2011). America’s recession: The effects of the economic downturn. Minneapolis, MN: Rosen.
  • This survey of the current economic climate in America provides middle grade readers with information about the housing crisis, predatory lending, high unemployment, and the ways in which Americans are adjusting to the economic realities of recession.
Labor and the Political Landscape
Aronson, M. (2005). The real revolution:  The global story of American independence. New York: Clarion.
  • Aronson demonstrates that the American Revolution was fought not just for “liberty” or freedom from unjust taxation, but rather as a result of the forces of the 18th century global marketplace, which include poor decisions by bankers in Scotland and an oversupply of tea in India.
Hopkinson, D. (2006). Up before daybreak:  Cotton and people in America. New York: Scholastic.
  • Hopkinson makes clear connections between the 19th century economies of New England and the South in this examination of cotton and cloth production in the United States, and the men, women, and child who profited from these endeavors, and those who did not.
Stotts, S. (2010). We shall overcome: a song that changed the world. Ill. by T. Cummings. New York: Clarion.
  • At its roots, “We Shall Overcome” was a slave spiritual. Before it was an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, it was used by labor leaders in the 1930s as a rallying cry for workers. Through the history of one song, readers can see the intersection of human rights in America.
Child Labor
Bartoletti, S. (1999). Kids on strike! Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • This nonfiction book chronicles child labor strikes in America, from the Lowell Mills of the 1930s to the Lawrence strike of 1912, including the mills and factories of the South. The book culminates in a discussion of the National Child Labor Committee , which hired Lewis Hine’s to photograph children at work. Hines’s photographs are featured in Russell Freedman’s Kids at Work, included below.
Freedman, R. (1994). Kids at work: Lewis Hine and the crusade against child labor. New York: Clarion.
  • This photo nonfiction photo essay tells of the horror of child labor in fields, factories and coal mines at the turn of the previous century, a period in history when the income gap was as wide as it is now.
Herumin, W. (2008). Child labor today: A human rights issue. Issues in Focus Today. Minneapolis, MN: Enslow.
  • The nonfiction volume presents statistics and information on child labor today, particularly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Sheth, K. (2010). Boys without names. New York: Balzar and Brazy.
  • This novel reveals the not-so-hidden world of child labor, and in particular, child slavery, in global manufacturing today, when Gopal leaves his rural village with his family, and winds up enslaved in a factory in the middle of Mumbai making decorations for the Western marketplace.
Winthrop, E. (2006). Counting on Grace. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.
  • This historical novel set in 1910 Vermont tells the story of twelve-year-old Grace, who is forced to leave school to support her family by working in a textile mill. Lewis Hine and his work for the Child Labor Committee play an important role in the story.
Labor Strikes
Cohn, D. (2005). Si, se puede! Yes, we can!: Janitor strike in L.A. El Paso, TX: Cinco Punto Press.
  • A bilingual picturebook based on the successful 2000 janitor strike in Los Angeles, in which a young boy wonders how he can support his mother while she participates in the strike.
Cronin, D. (2000) Click, clack, moo: Cows that type. New York: Simon &Schuster Books for Young Readers.
  • In this hilarious but astute picture book, Farmer Brown’s cows learn to type and begin to use their skills to demand fair conditions in the barn where they live and work.
Dash, J. (1996). We shall not be moved: The women’s factory strike of 1909. New York: Scholastic.
  • This nonfiction chapter book details the Women’s Factory Strike of 1909 in New York. This fight against low wages and dangerous work conditions took place at a time in America’s history when the income gap was as wide as it is now. This strike was a success in large part because wealthy women took on the cause of working women.
Patterson, K. (2006). Bread and roses, too. New York: Clarion.
  • This historical novel chronicles the Lawrence “Bread and Roses” Strike of 1912 through the voices of two children, Rose, the child of immigrants, and Jake, native-born. The second half of the book tells of removal of the largely immigrant workers’ children to safe havens outside the city, so that they could avoid the depravation experienced by the striking workers.
Migrant Workers
Adler, D., Adler, M. (2010). A picture book biography of Cesar Chavez. Ill. by Marie Olafsdotter. New York: Holiday House.
  • This cradle-to-grave biography of Chavez emphasizes his years of tireless advocacy for farm labors.
Altman, L. J. (1993). Amelia’s road. Ill. by E.O. Sanchez. New York: Lee and Low Books.
  • This fictional narrative captures the challenges that the children of migrant farm workers experience.
Alvarez, J. (2009). Return to sender. New York: Knopf.
  • This novel set in contemporary Vermont emphasizes the challenges faced by both migrant workers and small family farmers through the friendship of Tyler and Mari and the ways in which communities can still find strength when they pull together.
Bernier-Grand, C.T. (2004). Cesar: Si, se puede! Ill. by D. Diaz. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.
  • A verse biography chronicling the achievements of Cesar Chavez as well as the spirit with which he led his life.
Jimenez, F. ( 1997). The circuit: Stories from the life of a migrant child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • The challenges of one child and his family face as they travel throughout California searching for work are depicting in this semi-autobiographical work of fiction.
Krull, K. (2003). Harvesting hope: The story of Cesar Chavez. Ill. by Y. Morales. New York: Harcourt.
  • This picture book biography celebrates the tenacity and strength of Cesar Chavez, from his early years to his work on behalf of farm laborers and their families.
Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.