From School Library Journal
Grade 2–4—From the time children open the cover, everything about this oversize book speaks to the grand scale of steel and iron production circa 1935. Readers are drawn immediately into the heat and the grime of a steel town, from the tall trim size to the steely endpapers. The acrylic artwork creates an atmosphere of gloom with fiery furnaces and gray skies. Against this backdrop is the rhythmic, repetitious language detailing a day in the life of Steel Town. Starting with coal and ending with a "flaming river" of molten iron, the production of iron is lyrically described. The uses and purposes of iron round out the picture of steel while the workers go home and get ready for another day in the mills. Both informative and visually stunning, this beautifully written and powerfully illustrated picture book will make a perfect addition to any collection.—Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
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What begins as an elegy to the industrial steel boom opens to reveal the quiet resilience of the human spirit. Winter imagines a 1930s steel town, dark and torrid with around-the-clock toil. Barges rumble under smoky skies, while men, dwarfed by behemoth machinery, swing, sweat, and pull. Careful, explicit descriptions of steel production, molded into sinuous free verse, call up the heat and hardship of the labor while expressing the indelible survival of the laborers. With the standard 32-page length extended by 8 pages, the book offers a belated, welcome hope at the end of a long shift; underneath the story’s sooty surface, neighbors cook, garden, visit, and celebrate one another in the shadows of the smokestacks. In a palette of sulfuric oranges and grays, Widener’s acrylic paintings resemble WPA murals, and they evoke the same, fitting nobility. Though the contemplative treatment of a somewhat archaic subject may limit the book’s appeal, those who do discover it will find themselves enlightened, and moved. Grades 1-3. --Thom Barthelmess