Wednesday, March 7, 2012

YA Nonfiction Review: Flesh & Blood So Cheap

Digging through the "maybe" pile sometimes brings an unknown gem.  In my case, that gem is Albert Marrin's Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy.

My bookpile, larger than usual, has expanded due to the fact that we need to pick some new literature for the upcoming changes in curriculum.  So, I have been forcing myself to read any recommendations, award winners, and well-reviewed fiction, non-fiction, and verse in the hopes of getting it right.

The rough draft of what the new literature may be contains a variety of male and female authors along with books of varying cultures and life experiences.  However, one of my objective was to try and include some literature that directly related to the curriculum in other subject areas--we have a great opportunity to do this especially when we consider the professional and financial support of literature circles. 

I liked that Marrin's writing style will be accessible to 8th grade students--while the print is large and photos appear on most pages, the subject matter is detailed, direct, and meaningful.  The photos are terrific, by the way.  Tasteful, they certainly do contribute to a very gritty patina to an already grisly story.  As it is, we cover the Triangle Fire in our social studies curriculum, but I like that this book takes the reader deeper inside the lives and histories of the immigrants who struggled to put bread on the table while working in the garment district of New York.

As a matter of fact, the reader does not reach anything about the fire itself until page 104 out of a 163 page book.  For a thirteen year-old, the book is thorough and will support good classroom discussion and cause for writing.

Consider the final chapter where Marrin lays out in detail how the mistakes of the Triangle Fire are still being repeated around the world...and in New York City again.  For example, Marrin raises to light the ghastly conditions children suffer as workers in Bangladesh and Thailand, and then turns around and adds, if it weren't for the existence of these sweatshops the only other option might be being sold by their family as slave beggars--where children are maimed or blinded to attract the coins of tourists.  Suddenly, a sweat shop may not seem like such a bad option.

Packed with good starter history of the progressive movement, suffragists, unions, government and corruption, immigration, America as the land of opportunity, organized crime, fire safety codes, and current world affairs, I am strongly considering this book for my creative writing class literature circles.  Strongly.  It is certainly out of the maybe people.  I'm hard pressed to think of a reason why it should not be on the final "yes" list.

On a personal note, I also learned about Ruth Sergel in the book.  In 2004, Ruth began a history project of honoring the memories of the 146 workers who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, New York's most infamous disaster before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.  On every March 25th since 2004, Ruth organizes a group of volunteers to inscribe the names and ages of the victims on the sidewalks of New York City--more specifically on the sidewalks in front of what was once their homes.  I'm moved to go and take part in the event--March 25th falls on a Sunday this year.

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