From School Library Journal
Grade 3-5–This novel offers a close look at the harsh realities of life in a mill town during the early 20th century. The story centers on 11-year-old sisters, each envious of the other's "easy" life. Arlene, who was born with a "monster foot," is lonely tending house while Pauline works at the cotton mill with the rest of the family and other children. In alternate chapters, the twins narrate their parallel experiences. There is plenty of action as Pauline witnesses an accident in which a young coworker loses his thumb in the spindle and Arlene assists the local midwife. The story has a strong message about walking in another person's shoes. When Pauline injures her foot, she learns what it is like for her sister to live with a deformity. Arlene fills in at the mill for the injured boy and finds that there is no end to sweeping and lint. In the end, the girls recognize that their best opportunity for friendship is between themselves. An afterword discusses child labor in the United States in the early 20th century. A rather didactic novel, with good descriptions, this story is most likely to be used as a curricular tie-in.–Sharon R. Pearce, Chippewa Elementary School, Bensenville, IL
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Gr. 4-7. Grueling child labor provides the drama in this short, spare first novel, set a century ago and told in the alternating voices of 11-year-old twins Pauline and Arlene. The girls hate each other. Pauline works long, backbreaking hours in the mill, and she resents Arlene, "the favored one," who stays at home because she was born with a deformed foot. For her part, Arlene longs for the respect of a "real" job, even though she is responsible for the housework and helps the community's midwife. After Pauline injures her leg in a mill accident, the sisters become friends, but the real story is in the unsentimental view of families and the harsh facts of childhood at home and work, "lonely, boring, tiring, and dangerous." The sisters' plain, immediate, first-person present-tense narratives lend themselves to readers' theater, and teachers might want to pair them with the documentary images of photographers such as Lewis Hine. In a brief afterword, Boling talks about Hine--and about children around the globe who are, even today, forced into backbreaking labor. Hazel Rochman
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