Daily Bread by Antoinette Truglio Martin

Daily Bread

Antoinette Truglio Martin, Author

Red Penguin Books, Historical Fiction, Oct. 12, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Immigrants, New York City, Poverty, Child labor, Factories, Bullies

Synopsis:

Set in New York City in 1911, the large Taglia family has immigrated from Sicily and is living in a three-room tenement on Mott Street in the Lower East Side.  Earning enough money to cover the rent and basic needs is an endless struggle for the Taglia family and they need all the help they can muster. The father works double shifts at the docks. The mother is very pregnant with her fourth child, refuses to learn English and depends on her daughters to translate and barter for her.

Spunky songbird Lily wants to help by baking Daily Bread at the Goldberg’s Bakery like big sister, Margaret. But Margaret says Lily is just a little kid, and there is more to baking Daily Bread than height and an artist’s heart. Lily learns to navigate in a grown-up world when facing bullies, disasters, loss, dotty bakers, and treacherous streets to cross by herself.

Why I like this book:

Antoinette Truglio Martin has crafted a beautiful work of historical fiction based on her own family’s early beginnings in America. The story is a very American story — one that so many of us share. Martin’s writing is polished and filled with vivid imagery of the sights and sounds of the period, which will captivate reader’s imaginations. Her plot is realistic and sobering, and her pacing is pitch perfect, which will keep readers fully engaged.

The characters are authentic and memorable. Twelve-year-old Margaret is the eldest. She’s a smart student and knows that education is her way out of poverty. She helps the family out by working at a bakery. Ten-year-old Lily loves to sing and wants to learn how to bake Daily Bread at the Goldberg’s bakery with her big sister. Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg are Russian immigrants, who create a safe place where neighborhood children can bake the Daily Bread for their families and only pay three cents for their loaf rather than five cents. They also teach them a skill. Their routine is laborious, with Margaret and Lily arriving at the bakery before dawn to mix and knead their dough and put it into a pan to rise. They head to school only to return on their lunch breaks to punch the air out of the dough, knead and reshape it into a round loaf.  Their loaf will be baked and ready for them to take home when they return after school. Margaret earns extra money by helping with bakery sales and has secrets of her own, if she can dodge her mother’s pressure to take a factory job. Lily is determined to help out too. She makes bakery deliveries and has to learn to outsmart bullies and stand up for herself.

The heart of Martin’s story comes from listening to her grandmother, and her sisters, tell stories about their early lives in the shabby tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. They shared their stories around the dinner table or while cooking in the kitchen. Her family immigrated to the U.S. from Sicily in 1905. It was a tough time for immigrants, but they all had dreams of new lives. Make sure you read the Author’s Introduction and check out the Discussion and Writing Prompts and Research Project suggestions  at the end of the book. This is a great classroom book.

Antoinette Truglio Martin is a speech therapist and special education teacher by training but really wants to be a writer when she grows up. She has been collecting, writing, and fashioning stories forever. Over the years she has been a regular columnist in local periodicals and has several essays featured in newsletters and literary reviews. Her children’s picture book, Famous Seaweed Soup was published in 1993 by Albert Whitman Co. Antoinette’s memoir, Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer (She Writes Press 2017), chronicles her first year battling breast cancer as a wimpy patient. She proudly holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Stony Brook/Southampton University. Be sure to stop by her website and blog, Stories Served Around The Table, to read about past and present family adventures, book happenings, and musings.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

A Boy Called Dickens

Boy Called Dickens113794559A Boy Called Dickens

Deborah Hopkinson, author

John Hendrix, illustrator

Schwartz & Wade Books, Historical Fiction, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 5 and up

Themes:  Young life of Charles Dickens,  Child Labor, History, Imagination

Opening/Synopsis“This is old London, on a winter morning long ago.  Come along, now.  We are here to search for a boy called Dickens.  He won’t be easy to find.”  Standing in a doorway is a 12-year-old Dickens, dressed in a worn jacket.  He’s skinny and cold and watching schoolboys carrying their books to class.  Instead  of joining the boys, Dickens heads to a blacking factory, where he packages polish for gentlemen’s boots 10 hours a day.  To deal with the bitter cold and boredom a friend asks Dickens to tell a story.  Dickens is an imaginative boy who loves to spin a story and misses his books that were sold to pay a family debt.  His most prized possessions are a pencil and slate.  He begins to sketch out the story of an orphan boy named David.  eventually his father is able to send Dickens back to school and Dickens becomes a writer.  His dream did come true.

Why I like this book:  Little was known about novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) as a child.  Deborah Hopkinson sheds light on his boyhood and his struggles and dreams as it is easy to see that his books are a window on his own life.  His youth left him with an ambitious drive to pursue those dreams at all cost.  That’s why this is such an important story for young people — to never let go of their dreams.  John Hendrix’s illustrations are rich in detail, expressive and beautifully capture the time period.  You can see glimpses of Dickens in some of his characters.

Resources:  What better way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth than to introduce this famous author.  It is the holiday season and a perfect time to read A Christmas Carol  or Oliver Twist at home or in the classroom.  Talk about London in around 1825 and child labor.   Talk about the child labor that still exists in the world.  There is a Note about the book at the end which has information.  Check out Deborah Hopkinson’s website for more information.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Carpet Boy’s Gift

The Carpet Boy’s Gift

Pegi Deitz Shea, author

Leane Morin, illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, Fiction, 2006

Suitable for:  Ages 7 -12

Themes:  Pakistan, Child Labor, Child Abuse, Carpet Factories

Opening/Synopsis: “Master says I have only two more months until my peshgi   (family debt) is paid back.  With that thought, Nadeem quickened his knotting of the scarlet weft threads on the loom and then beat them tightly into place with his panja.  I’m sure Master means it this time, Nadeem hoped.”  Nadeem dreams of being free, playing soccer with his little brother and going to school.  He works in a dimly lit carpet factory from “dawn to dusk” breathing the dust of the wool that makes many kids sick.  One day Nadeem meets Iqbal Masih, a boy who marches past the rug factories shouting “We are free.” Iqbal hands Nadeem some Freedom Letters abolishing child labor and urges Nadeem to pass them to the other children.  Before the master intervenes, Iqbal hands Nadeem a pen and tells him he can go to school now.  The next day Nadeem hands the Freedom Letters to all the children at the factory and bravely confronts the master.  He makes a very risky and courageous decision that changes his life forever.

Why I like this book:  Pegi Deitz Shea writes a very important story about the power of children working together to end child labor in Pakistan.   Her fictional story honors the legacy of a boy, Iqbal Masih, who risked his own life to free children from slavery so that they could attend school.  Iqbal escaped from a factory and attended a rally held by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), an organization working to help bonded children.  He began to sneak into hundreds of rug factories so he could educate the other kids about their rights.   He became famous worldwide.  Leane Morin’s illustrations are beautiful watercolors that show a lot of emotion and are unique.  Each photo has a border with a special design –like a carpet border.

Resources:  There is a comprehensive section of backmatter full of resources for kids who wonder what they can do to about child labor around the world.  There is the true story of Iqbal Masih,  information about the United Nations and the work it does for the rights of all children, and UNICEF and its mission for children.   There are many kid-friendly sites listed  and a kid-to-kid global project that helps others.  You can also check out Reach and Teach for more classroom activities for this story.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Saraswati’s Way

Saraswati’s Way

Monika Schroder, Author

Frances Foster Books, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for:  Ages 10 -14 years

Themes:  Indian boy wants to study math, Poverty, Child labor, Hindu culture

Award:  2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year

Schroder has written a powerful, compelling and inspirational novel about twelve-year-old boy from India, who has a gift with numbers.  Akash sees numbers as patterns in his head.  He desperately wants to learn more from the village teacher, but he knows more than his teacher.  Akash shares his dreams of applying for a scholarship to go to a city school with his Bapu (father).  He is told that if the gods want him to have an education, he will.  He prays to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, to grant his wish and to help him.

But, life deals Akash a blow when Bapu develops a fever and dies.  His Dadima (grandmother) sends him to work in the landlord’s rock quarry to pay off the family debt.  When Akash mathematically figures out that the landlord is charging interest on the loans, he realizes he will never pay off the family debt.   Late one night he hops a train headed to New Delhi to pursue his dreams.  He is now a street child rummaging for food and stealing to survive.  He wonders if Saraswati has abandoned him.  The streets of New Delhi hold unimaginable dangers, and temptations.  Akash must find a way to make money to pay for a math tutor.  His dreams of attending school present him with some difficult choices.   He can follow a street-smart boy, Rohit, and earn a lot of money dishonestly.  Or he can work with Ramesh,  a kind elderly newspaper vendor, who sees something very special in Akash.   He remembers his last conversation with Bapu before he dies.  “What you desire is on its way.” 

Monika Schroder, an elementary school teacher in New Delhi for seven years, really captures the essence of India — its color, heat, smells, beauty, poverty and child labor practices — through the eyes of a very determined orphaned boy.   In an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book she estimates there are between 100,000 to 500,000 street children.  Schroder also says about 80 percent of the people in India practice Hinduism.  There also is a glossary of Hindu words.   “A boy like Akash has a slim chance of fulfilling his dream in contemporary India,”  said Schroder.  “Yet I wanted to write a hopeful book about a child who, with determination, courage, and some luck achieves his goal against all odds.”