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Growing Up in Coal Country Paperback – September 27, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 5-8. Bartoletti uses oral history, archival documents, and an abundance of black-and-white photographs to make turn-of-the-century mining life a surprisingly compelling subject for today's young people. Zooming in on northeastern Pennsylvania in general, and the perspective of children in particular, she writes of the desperate working conditions, the deplorable squalor found in the "patch villages," and the ever-present dangers of the occupation. Stories of breaker-boy pranks and the roles of the animals at work bring some comic relief, but even they point out the enormous hardships suffered before there were effective unions and child-labor laws. The words and work of children are weighted equally with the efforts of the Molly McGuires, Mother Jones, and other adult players. Captioned, black-and-white photographs, with attributions, appear on almost every page, allowing the images to play a powerful role in the gritty story. The bibliography reveals the depth of Bartoletti's research. An introduction conveys her motivation (fascination with family stories), while a brief conclusion touches upon the region in the post-World War I era. For a first-rate, accessible study of a time and place that played an important role in American economic and social history, look no further.?Wendy Lukehart, Dauphin County Library, Harrisburg, PA
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Gr. 5 and up. With compelling black-and-white photographs of children at work in the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania about 100 years ago, this handsome, spacious photo-essay will draw browsers as well as students doing research on labor and immigrant history. The story of these boys' lives are a part of Russell Freedman's general overview Kids at Work (1994) and of Betsy Harvey Kraft's biography Mother Jones (1995); but there's a wealth of personal detail and family story here that focuses on what it was like in the mines and in the homes and communities of these working children. Lewis Hines' famous pictures will grab readers, and Bartoletti has also gathered dozens of archival photos and heartbreaking oral histories. They show what it was like for eight-year-old breaker boys sorting coal surrounded by deafening noise and black clouds of dust, steam, and smoke; what it was like to be a mule driver underground; what it meant to be a spragger, a butty, a nipper. Drawing on personal interviews, archival tapes and transcripts, and a wide range of historical resources, Bartoletti finds heartfelt memories of long hours, hard labor, and extremely dangerous working conditions, as well as lighter accounts of spirited rebellion, mischief, and bonding. The immigrant experience is an integral part of this "coal culture": the strength of ethnic groups and the prejudice against them, and their banding together to form strong labor unions. As with most fine juvenile nonfiction, this will also have great appeal for adults. Hazel Rochman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 5 - 7
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (September 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395979145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395979143
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Medal. She lives in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Annika Maria Nelson studied printmaking at the University of Vienna in Austria and at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She lives in Southern California.

Customer Reviews

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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By G. Kramer on April 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
i've been researching the history of the anthracite region and specifically the experience of miners and their families, and this was one of the most useful books i've seen. by detailing the different jobs the boys in the mines did, bartoletti also manages to describe how a mine worked in ways that other books on mining don't really explain. it covers the whole process by telling stories about the different jobs the kids did.
the photos too are wonderful. you get a real sense of how much these kids are both children and yet so remarkably grown up, just from the looks in their eyes.
the stories about them range from terrifically sad (i cried a few times) to heartwarming and sweet. the book doesn't come off as bombast or pure sentiment, but keeps a very journalistic view of these kids & their reality.
i highly recommend it.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David W. Frantz on August 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
A very interesting little book for anyone who grew up in or has an interest in the history of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Region. The stories in this book apply to so many thousands of families that lived there and tried so hard to make a living under the harshest of conditions. Life was anything but easy for the anthracite miner and his family - no medical insurance (but then medical care was almost non-existent), no paid holidays, just dirty and dangerous work. The book is brief, reads easy but generally does a good job of telling it like it was back then and in that place.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating book about the life and times of the coal miners in Pennsylvania when "coal was king" and child labor laws were things of the future. The photographs, especially those involving children, are haunting; and Susan Bartoletti's text is lucid and poignant. Impressions of the "breaker boys", "nippers", "spraggers", and the "fire boss" lingered in my mind long after I finished reading this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tony Thomas on January 6, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My family roots are in Southern West Virginia soft smokeless coal, which was once the center of world coal production, not the harder Pennsylvania anthracite that is the center of this book, but coal mining is coal mining.

This book gives a good picture of the lives, work, struggles, and creation of anthracite miners, not just as an economic or political group, but as people. The touching, knowing, humanizing text, and the great pictures let me see things I had heard people say, but known only from books, or not even from books like "Once a miner, twice a breaker boy."

This is not a children's book, but a book that had a profound impact on this 61 year old academic who has studied the history of coal mining and the UMWA for decades.

You get taken inside the mine, inside the tipple, inside the homes, inside the ball games, inside the lives of these miners and see the strength and struggle of their lives. We are also treated to know of their struggles, especially the great Molly McGuires and Mother Jones, produts of the Pennsylvania anthracite fields.

None of this is over. With energy prices skyrocketing, coal mining is booming especially in the Mountain West states of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. Across the Appalachian Coal fields and the Anthracite region, coal mines and fields that were once not economical to work are being reopened. Get rich now before oil goes down is one of the slogans of the new and old coal barons with mines being opened quickly without regard to the safety of the miners or the destruction of the ecology.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Diane G. on May 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
I teach 8th grade English, and we have been reading this book. The students love it! the stories are great, the pictures equally as wonderful. It details the jobs from the smallest breaker boy to the miner and his butty - talks about the mules and rats, and the patch towns, as well as the tragedies, and 'black maria'.

We live about an hour away from the Scranton area, and we are planning to visit the coal mines. The students are very excited to visit, and have learned so much already about the region. It is also great for me, as i had 2 great uncles who worked in the PA mines.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader from Buffalo on December 5, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My greandfather was a coal miner-who started out as a "breaker boy". I bought this book to get insight on how conditions were when working in the coal mines in the early 1900's. This book certainly opened my eyes to see how harsh it was to earn a living in this manner. Reading this made me understand what type of life my grandfather had as a young child and gave me a better insight into what the coal mining industry was all about during this period of time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By RNolen on May 13, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love this book. There are more photos than any other book I've found about the history of coal mining in America. I'm so thankful that this book is out there. The photos of children who worked in the coal mine are heartbreaking. Much praise is heaped.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By carmen on March 22, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I initially bought this book because my grandmother grew up in that time and place (Pennsylvania, circa 1910). This book offers an incredible glimpse into the lives of the men and boys (and mules) who worked in the coal mines. This book provided a riveting and sobering look at that period in history, and helped me envision the world my grandmother grew up in. Once I started looking at it, I couldn't put it down. It is an informative and moving account and I recommend it highly.
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